Richard W. Riley Papers
The collection series include Public, Personal, Speeches and Media, Audiovisual, and Clippings.
Public papers include those from Riley’s service as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives (1963 to 1967) and the South Carolina Senate (1967 to 1977), as Governor (1979 to 1987), and as Secretary of Education (1993 to 2001). Riley’s House papers include documentation of Greenville County issues, as well as a quantity of material on the Reapportionment Committee. Riley’s work on the latter prompted then-Governor Robert E. McNair to nominate him for the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) Outstanding Young Man Award, writing that Riley “readily sacrificed prospects of immediate political victory and public glory” in favor of a well-crafted compromise, and that “his life and his character epitomize the high ideals of honesty, integrity, studiousness, unselfishness, and deeply engrained love of community, state, and nation.” The Senate papers largely document Riley’s significant work with the Constitutional Revision Committee, which put forth extensive revisions to the outdated 1895 state constitution, ultimately approved by the voting public.
Gubernatorial papers include administrative materials, such as staff information and schedules, as well as an extensive Topical subseries. Among the Topical materials are papers regarding the development of and advocacy for the EIA. One notable letter from Riley, following the hard-fought passage of the EIA, thanks state Senator Thomas E. Smith, Jr. for a symbolic gift: “Of the many kind expressions of friendship that I have received over the years, none will exceed the joy to Tunky and myself which we received when you presented me with the ‘boot jack.’ .... I appreciate your strong support for public education. You and I will live to see the day that we are proud of the results of our efforts.” Other topical files include wide-ranging information on nuclear waste and on the initiative to allow gubernatorial succession, as well as the transition between Riley’s consecutive terms, the first of its kind in South Carolina history. Riley’s efforts toward economic and industrial development in South Carolina are detailed, including material on the Southern Growth Policies Board, rural development programs, and the South Carolina Research Authority, created in 1983. Travel files particularly document Riley’s efforts to recruit new industry, especially foreign investment, into the state.
Materials relating to Riley’s terms as Secretary of Education are the most extensive in the collection. Included in the subseries are Schedules, Travel, and Administrative files on the management of the Department of Education. Administrative papers include correspondence with ED staff which demonstrates the high esteem his employees had for him. Briefing Book files span nearly the entire eight years of Riley’s tenure and contain copies of briefing materials prepared almost daily for Riley. The files generally contain memos and background information for meetings and events, schedules for Riley and his deputy, talking points and speeches, and often Riley’s own notes. A Cabinet/Clinton Administration subseries relates to Riley’s Cabinet and administration duties, including White House and other events, and Riley’s and ED’s contributions to President Clinton’s State of the Union addresses and policy papers. Also present are agendas, background materials, and notes from Cabinet meetings and briefings throughout Clinton’s two terms.
Topical papers from the Secretary of Education era relate primarily to education, although there are files regarding other issues, such as the 1993 Clinton economic program, health care reform proposals, and foreign affairs, primarily relating to Ireland and Northern Ireland, including the 1998 Belfast peace agreement. Riley, proud of his family roots in County Cavan, was a frequent visitor to Ireland as Secretary, working on a number of cooperative education projects, and he was even mentioned as a potential ambassador to Ireland in 1998.
Topical education files reflect many facets of the education realm, including private and religious schools, assessment, and Title I programs. Among the most extensive files are those relating to higher education, including on student loans, in which the Department of Education had a direct role. Also, of significance are files on Congressional relations and on education funding. Riley was a very active and visible advocate with lawmakers, although ED sometimes found opposition from both the left and the right. Prominent names represented in the Congressional files include Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Representative Bill Goodling (R-PA). Goodling, a former teacher, served as chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce from 1995 to 2001, and although they did not always see eye to eye, he said of Riley, “He’s a wonderful individual…I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t like him even if they don’t agree with him.” Numerous files document the development and passage of Goals 2000. Others include research and information on pressing education problems such as class size, growing violence in schools, and the rapidly escalating need for additional technology in classrooms. A continuing theme from Riley’s earlier reforms in South Carolina was an emphasis on community and family involvement in education; several files show ED’s and Riley’s work in this area, which he considered essential. Riley and his staff—including his Chief Education Counsel while Governor and Secretary, South Carolinian Terry Peterson, and 1985 South Carolina and National Teacher of the Year, Terry Dozier—also worked hard to establish and maintain a national network of active teachers with whom the Department could consult.
Riley’s popularity and success in his role as Secretary, as well as his close relationship with Clinton, led to frequent speculation about other roles he might take on. In addition to the Irish ambassadorship, potential positions mentioned included White House Chief of Staff and an appointment to the Supreme Court. In a remarkable example of Riley’s ability to maintain good relationships even with former opponents, his onetime rival for the governorship, Brantley Harvey, wrote in an unsolicited letter to President Clinton in 1994:
I have been a member of the South Carolina Bar with your distinguished Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, for 35 years. We served together in the South Carolina General Assembly for a number of years. I was defeated by him in the 1978 Democratic Primary for the governorship of South Carolina and then served under him, and by his appointment, as a Commissioner of the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism. I feel that I know Dick Riley well as a practicing attorney, as a progressive and activist state legislator, and as a fine governor. While Dick has never served in the judicial branch of government, I feel that he has all of the attributes to make an excellent Supreme Court Justice. He is fair-minded and even-handed. He is intelligent and knowledgeable, and quick to grasp the major issues in any dispute. He knows and understands people from the working person to the CEO. As you well know, Dick is progressive but certainly not radical. He understands politics (in the highest sense of that term) but would not let that interfere with his decisions as a Justice. I sincerely recommend to you and encourage your appointment of Richard Riley as a Justice to the United States Supreme Court.
Riley responded to Harvey, “I was personally moved by the sincerity of your letter to the President. If I was writing to him about you and your professional & personal life, it would be just as strong. Thank you so much…. Since my real love is education & I feel so lucky to serve in this position, I have informed our friends in the White House that I am not a candidate for the Court. However, I am deeply honored & somewhat shocked by being considered. But your unsolicited expression of friendship makes this whole conversation worthwhile to me. I shall never forget your letter.”
The Personal series includes materials relating to Riley’s involvement as a private citizen with education and other issues and public interest groups, as well as files on his family, his campaigns for office, legal career, oral histories conducted with Riley, schedules, and travel. 1994 saw the passing of Riley’s father, “Mr. Ted,” at the age of 94, followed shortly by Riley’s undergoing cancer surgery. The collection includes condolence letters and get-well notes. Also included are letters of recommendation Riley sent for colleagues and friends seeking jobs or community service positions, and those being considered for awards.
Academic papers date from Riley’s work, circa 1987 to 1991, as a visiting professor at Austin Peay State University and at Harvard University, as well as various lectures he gave at Furman University and the University of South Carolina around the same time. Riley’s stint at Harvard, where he held an Institute of Politics Fellowship for the spring semester of 1990, is particularly well documented. His “study group” was titled “The Changing Role of Governors: Solving Problems vs. Cutting Ribbons,” and his lectures, as well as his selection of guest lecturers, illustrate his philosophy about executive government and his experiences in office. Documents relating to Riley’s own school years are found under Personal, Education, and include class notes, report cards, and correspondence.
Campaign files detail Riley’s races for the House, Senate, and Governor, as well as his efforts for other candidates, including Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and numerous members of Congress. Of particular interest are the files documenting Riley’s campaign for governor in 1978. Riley entered the race early in 1977 and built a wide-ranging campaign organization, including finance and steering committees, advisory committees from the African-American, student, and senior citizen communities, and an “Educators and Parents for Riley” group. Also key to Riley’s ultimate come-from-behind victory was a strong county-by-county organization. Support from his hometown was enthusiastic, as indicated by an invitation to a Greenville fundraising event: “As a Greenville Senator and Representative for fourteen years, Dick has repeatedly demonstrated a rare quality of leadership and courage. This is the type of man that can lead South Carolina. There has not been a Governor from Greenville for seventy years. Therefore, we are counting on you to join in our efforts to elect Dick Riley the next Governor of South Carolina.” Responses to this invitation included a note from attorney Robert A. Clay of Greenville: “Be advised that although I am a former Chairman of the Republican Party in Greenville County, Dick has my absolute support, irrespective of who runs against him for Governor.” Also included are files relating to Riley’s 1982 re-election campaign, the first of its kind following the ratification of the constitutional amendment allowing gubernatorial succession.
Family papers include genealogical information as well as correspondence among Riley’s close-knit family. A highlight is a set of notes made by Ann “Tunky” Riley regarding various trips abroad and important events attended by the Rileys during their years in the public eye. Among others represented in the subseries are Riley’s father, E.P. “Ted” Riley, including the extensive condolence notes after his death in 1994, as well as Riley’s brother, Pat, and his mother, Martha. Ted Riley and Tunky Riley have collections under their own names at South Carolina Political Collections.
The Topical subseries of Personal depicts Riley’s continuing interest and involvement in education and children’s issues between his terms as governor and Secretary and following his service as Secretary. It includes material relating to the Riley Institute at Furman University, as well as documenting Riley’s activity in the Democratic Party. A substantial Persons subseries contains files on Jimmy Carter, Pat Conroy, Bryan Dorn, John Glenn, members of the Kennedy family, and others. Among the folders on Bill Clinton are many from Riley’s service on a 2001 panel selecting an Irish university to serve as the home for the William J. Clinton Centre for American Studies.
The Speeches and Media series includes notes, talking points, and speech texts dating from the early days of Riley’s public career to the present. Especially earlier in his career, Riley often drafted his own remarks or talking points, sometimes on the reverse of an invitation or event program. He also enjoyed collecting anecdotes, humorous country music lyrics, quotes, statistics, and other information that often found its way into his speeches (see Speech Material). As Secretary of Education, Riley made an extraordinary number of speeches and public statements, at times as many as three or more per day. He also instituted the annual State of American Education address, which he saw as a means for ED to review and to plan for the year ahead, as well as an opportunity for focused public and media attention. The Speeches subseries includes speech texts, which Riley usually annotated and edited heavily, sometimes with multiple drafts. Speech files often incorporate invitations, programs, background material, and information about travel arrangements and attendees.
Media files include articles written by Riley, particularly as Secretary of Education, and notes and talking points for interviews, as well as a set of press releases issued by Riley’s office from 1993 to 2000.
Audiovisual materials date largely from Riley’s campaign for governor onward and include formats such as U-matic and VHS videocassettes. Most are labeled as to their content (see Audiovisual Appendix) and some have been migrated to digital formats. Of particular interest are the Department of Education’s Satellite Town Meetings, which were monthly events on a wide variety of education topics, often featuring guest speakers, broadcast nationally via the Public Broadcasting System, local access channels, and the Discovery Channel. The audiovisual materials also hint at the great number of speeches and public appearances Riley made as Secretary of Education. A large number of photographs date from early 20th-century family photos to significant documentation of Riley’s terms as governor and as Secretary. VIP photo files feature public figures, including numerous governors, members of Congress, and presidents, as well as Ella Fitzgerald, Coretta Scott King, Jesse Jackson, Mother Teresa, Benjamin Mays, and many others.
Clippings consist of newspaper and other articles, generally mentioning Riley or his family. Chronological clippings files were maintained by the Office of the Governor and, for a short time, by the office of the Secretary of Education. Loose clippings have been arranged topically.
- c. 1898 - 2018
- Riley, Richard W. (Richard Wilson) (Person)
Conditions Governing Use
Library use only. Copyright of the Richard W. Riley Papers has been transferred to the University of South Carolina.
138 Linear Feet (138 boxes)
Biographical / Historical
"Dick Riley…has one superb living monument to his name—the Education Improvement Act and the great sweep of reform that continues to this day. Like no other leader in our state’s history, Dick has had a passionate faith in the transforming power of education. His ideas and leadership here in South Carolina sparked a prairie fire of educational innovation that has spread to the entire country."
--Senator Ernest F. Hollings, March 31, 1992
"I have been honored and proud to work with you and the excellent team that you have brought together to reinvent and energize the Department. Your dedication to high standards went far beyond educational standards for the nation’s students and has touched and motivated all of us who have had the privilege of being a member of 'Riley’s Rulers.'…. Your focus has remained single—will it improve education? That single focus and your inherent integrity and goodwill has created a measure of trust among the Department’s employees that has enabled us to move the Department forward to not only better serve students, but protect and use the taxpayers’ assets more effectively and efficiently as well. Thank you for the opportunity to be a member of the team."
--Department of Education Chief Financial Officer Don Wurtz in a letter to Riley, Apr. 10, 1996
"His title may be 'Secretary of Education,' but, at heart, he is a teacher."
--Nancy Flanagan, participant on Department of Education teachers’ listserv, Dec. 30, 1996
Richard Wilson “Dick” Riley was the first governor of South Carolina to serve two consecutive terms, from 1979 to 1987. His signature effort as governor—improving public education—led to his appointment as the sixth United States Secretary of Education, serving the longest term of any Secretary, from 1993 to 2001. It was also, by many estimations, the most successful tenure to date as Secretary of Education: in 2008, Riley was named by TIME Magazine as one of the “Top Ten Best Cabinet Members” in 20th-century American history.
Born in 1933 in Greenville, South Carolina, Riley was the son of Edward P. “Ted” Riley and Martha Dixon Riley. He was educated in public schools, primarily in Greenville, with a brief stint in Miami, Florida, during his father’s World War II service. While in Greenville High School, Riley joined the U.S. Navy Reserve and served as co-captain on the football team. He also took an early interest in student politics. Later in life, Riley recalled his school days: "I took piano as a young guy …I played in the recital, and I wasn’t any star pianist, but I got elected president of Woodside Music Club….I went to Greenville High, and I was co-captain of the football team—and I was not the star football player at all. And I thought, for some reason I can get chosen, and maybe I’m better at that than anything else…my most successful thing was getting elected."
Following his high school graduation in 1950, Riley went on to Furman University, where he majored in political science. While there, he was active in intramural sports and served on student council for four years, including as president in his senior year. He participated in the Reserve Officer Training Corps and spent several summers in naval training with an eye toward pursuing a career in the Navy. After graduating cum laude from Furman in 1954, Riley was commissioned as an ensign and trained at the Officer’s Mine Warfare School. He served in communications and as an operations officer, spending about two years in the Caribbean, Atlantic, and Mediterranean before he suffered a sudden back spasm that signified the onset of ankylosing spondylitis, a painful form of inflammatory spinal arthritis. He was honorably discharged from the Navy, and for the next 15 years Riley would endure as the disease ran its course, choosing to fight through the pain without complaint. Once the active phase of the condition subsided, Riley was left with a stiff, slightly altered posture, but more importantly, an increased “mental discipline and tenacity” that has become a striking aspect of his character.
In 1956, Riley enrolled at the University of South Carolina School of Law. He became active in student governance in the Law School Federation and served as a page in the state Senate. Riley also reconnected with Ann “Tunky” Yarborough of Florence, whom he had first met when they were young teenagers. They were married in August 1957 and went on to have four children: Richard, Jr., Anne, Hubert, and Ted. Following his graduation from law school in 1959, the Rileys moved briefly to Washington, D.C., where he spent six months as legal counsel for U.S. Senator Olin D. Johnston (D-SC), who chaired a Judiciary Committee subcommittee.
As a young lawyer, Riley was inspired by his father’s example of public service. The senior Riley had long served as Greenville County Attorney and later represented the school board during the contentious process of desegregating public schools; he also was a highly visible and successful chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, helping to win South Carolina for John F. Kennedy in 1960. Upon returning to Greenville, Dick Riley set up a law office in nearby Simpsonville and began to ponder a political and public service career of his own. He became Simpsonville Town Attorney in 1960, and in 1962, he ran for a seat in the South Carolina House of Representatives. He was elected as one of three new members in the eleven-member Greenville County delegation. His two terms in the House were highlighted by his service on a special reapportionment study committee, which was established as a result of a resolution he introduced in 1965. South Carolina’s Senate districting, which then called for one senator per county, had been struck down as part of a Supreme Court decision, compelling the reapportionment. The study committee broke down into acrimonious debate, leading Riley to propose his own plan, which was ultimately the basis for the final arrangement. The Senate districts were then redistricted temporarily, and a special term of the Senate was called in 1966, prompting Riley to run for and win one of the new Senate seats. In the Senate, Riley continued working on reapportionment. He also chaired a joint legislative committee on aging and served on the Constitutional Revision Committee and the Judiciary Committee.
In 1976, after two full terms as senator, Riley declined to run for re-election. He had become interested in what was then a long-shot campaign for president by Jimmy Carter and oversaw Carter’s campaign in South Carolina. Riley admired Carter’s efforts at modernizing state government in Georgia, which had resonance with his own work in the South Carolina General Assembly. At the same time, Riley openly admitted his interest in running for statewide office in 1978. He had emerged as a last-minute dark horse candidate for governor in 1974, when Democratic nominee Charles D. “Pug” Ravenel was suddenly disqualified and had lost by only a slim margin at the special convention called to replace Ravenel. Riley strongly and sincerely supported the ultimate nominee, Bryan Dorn, but the experience seemed to reinforce his own hope to serve as governor.
In the 1978 Democratic primary, Riley faced opposition from the incumbent Lieutenant Governor, Brantley Harvey, and from Dorn, who had narrowly lost the gubernatorial election in 1974. Riley’s early polling showed that he started the race with the support of only 3% of the electorate. In the June primary, he received 33% of the vote to Harvey’s 38%. Dorn ran a close third and dropped out of the race, throwing his support to Riley. Perhaps mindful of Riley’s energetic support for him four years earlier, Dorn actively campaigned with and for Riley. In the primary runoff, Riley prevailed over Harvey 53% to 47%. In the general election, Riley beat the Republican candidate, former Congressman Ed Young, by a margin of 61% to 38%.
Riley’s early achievements as governor included testifying before Congress about the need for increased federal oversight of the low-level radioactive waste being disposed of in South Carolina and two other states. He also made children’s health and reducing infant mortality a top priority. However, as he had anticipated, the traditionally limited power of South Carolina’s governor made it difficult to realize any major initiative or reform. With his eye on improving education, Riley felt that the state’s prohibition of gubernatorial succession had to be repealed: "The power of a governor going back to the people for their approval is very, very forceful. And a governor who is pushing for a program…who is willing then to go back to the people and have a referendum on whether or not they agree with those terms…is very powerful…. It does not make the legislature weaker. It makes the Governor’s Office stronger…more of a force in the state, more dynamic in public affairs, and therefore makes the state more a force in national affairs."
In his January 1980 State of the State Address, Riley called for the legislature to submit a constitutional amendment allowing gubernatorial succession. The amendment won by a large margin at the polls, allowing Riley to run for a second term in 1982.
Riley’s 1979 inaugural address signaled what would become his most whole-hearted priority for his administration: “Excellence in public education is our first duty to each other.” His hard-fought, iconic achievement, the Education Improvement Act (EIA) of 1984, combined two of his emphases as governor: supporting and advancing the state’s schools and cultivating South Carolina as a fertile ground for economic and industrial development, with an educated workforce and improved standard of living. The objectives of the EIA included increasing standards for students and implementing more comprehensive testing; a renewed focus on basic skills; greater accountability for school employees and administrators; a program of incentive grants; upgraded school facilities; and community partnerships. To support its aims, the key element of the act was a one-cent increase in the state’s sales tax to underwrite school reform and development.
As Riley and his staff built up to their legislative initiative, they worked to cultivate a sense of investment in public education among parents and communities. Polling showed that South Carolinians were generally willing to back an increased sales tax to benefit education, provided there was sufficient accountability and an emphasis on measurable results. Another prerequisite for the success of the EIA was to convince private business and industry that an improved educational system would benefit the state’s corporate citizens. Riley and his staff conferred extensively with representatives of industry in order to craft a bill the business community would support. Finally, the governor’s team took steps to reassure the state’s educators that there would not be excessive interference with their work and their independence. The EIA push included a series of forums held around the state to explain the proposals to the public; these local forums were preceded by visits by the Governor, his representatives, and surrogates to lay groundwork with civic groups and the media.
Riley and his staff worked closely throughout his term—and throughout his efforts for EIA—with organizations such as the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) and the Education Commission of the States. Beneficial to Riley’s reform efforts, and to other such efforts regionally, was the 1983 report A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, a landmark in American education policy. The report presented a number of recommendations similar to those found in the EIA.
A lengthy floor fight in the House of Representatives kept the bill under debate for several months, as each facet of the legislation was scrutinized. Riley vowed publicly not to remove his favorite cowboy boots, a recent gift from Texas Governor Mark White, until the bill was passed. Tunky Riley, despite ongoing treatment for breast cancer, appeared in the gallery each day of the debate. The proponents of reform finally won the day in both the House and the Senate. About the passage of the law Riley later said, “Thoughtful leaders saw education as the only long-term solution for a better future…. That new law put South Carolina in the national spotlight as being in the forefront of education reform.”
As Riley’s second term came to an end, his accomplishment with the EIA and his overall impressive record was drawing widespread attention: “Riley is now the most influential governor in the history of South Carolina,” wrote national journalist and author Jack Hitt in 1986. After leaving office in January 1987, Riley returned to Greenville and resumed the practice of law, joining the rapidly growing statewide firm, Nelson Mullins Riley, and Scarborough. His interest in education policy was undiminished and he continued his involvement via the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s Governing Board and the SREB Commission on Education Quality, which he chaired. In 1992, his close friend and governor of Arkansas Bill Clinton ran for president, with Riley serving as his campaign chair in South Carolina. Clinton’s subsequent election victory signaled a renewed focus on education as a national priority.
Riley was tapped by President-elect Clinton to vet talent for sub-Cabinet appointments as head of Clinton’s transition team. Shortly afterward, Riley agreed to serve as Clinton’s Secretary of Education. Fellow former Southern Governor Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Riley’s predecessor as Secretary of Education, quickly endorsed him. Riley was presented to the United States Senate by both of South Carolina’s senators--Hollings, a Democrat, and Strom Thurmond, a Republican--and was unanimously confirmed.
In his statement at his confirmation hearing, Riley said:
"As Governor of South Carolina, I had the opportunity to work very closely with Governor Clinton to reform my State’s and our Nation’s education system. I am so proud that our shared experiences led him to appoint me to this post…. If confirmed by the Senate, I intend to work very closely with you…to implement our shared vision of effective and innovative and accountable education systems. I hope that the bipartisanship that…led to the Democratic and Republican Governors working together, and with President Bush—will continue. There is no reason for education to be anything other than a bipartisan effort, if we all want it to be most effective. We have an essential mission to accomplish together."
At the time Riley took over, the Department of Education (ED) was, as a relatively new and small Cabinet department, still struggling to find its identity and its role within the multilayered structure of American education. Frequently targeted for dismantling during its short existence, ED had recently been the subject of a negative report by the General Accounting Office in regard to its recordkeeping, management, student loan oversight, and employee morale. Riley’s arrival, along with the strong leadership team he assembled, seemed to energize the Department, as did early collaborative efforts such as working with Secretary of Labor Robert Reich on the School-to-Work Opportunities Act. Riley’s low-key, humble, and friendly manner was appreciated by his staff, as was his well-known dedication to and understanding of educators, the education system, and children.
The Clinton Administration’s signature education legislation, Goals 2000: Educate America Act, was signed into law in early 1994. The law spelled out a set of national education goals and set up a system of competitive discretionary grants to be awarded to states. Riley referred to it as “the framework” for all other educational initiatives to follow. One of those, established early in Clinton’s first term, was a program of direct student loans, wherein the Department of Education would lend money directly to students pursuing higher education, thereby saving taxpayers billions of dollars. At the same time, ED prepared for the periodic reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), in the form of the 1994 Improving America’s Schools Act (IASA). With proposals new and old revitalizing the Department, Riley’s role as Secretary was largely one of advocacy, visibility, and relationships. “His Department of Education is relatively powerless to shape the way schools run, so his job is more about raising consciousness than launching programs,” noted a profile in the Washington Post. “He works 12, 15 hours a day, six or seven days a week, and spends much of that time speaking to educators—emphasizing academic standards, education as a community endeavor, and opportunity for all.” As Riley himself noted, “We’ve all got strengths and weaknesses and my strength is talking people into doing something that I think is worthwhile.” Accordingly, Riley maintained an unrelenting schedule, and travel, speeches, public appearances, and school visits became a hallmark of his tenure as Secretary. In a speech from March 1999, Riley noted that, as of his arrival that week in Maine, he had visited all 50 states as Secretary. During his eight years as Secretary, he visited more than 370 schools, sometimes several in one day. He also established trademark events, such as the annual “America Goes Back to School,” which often included various Cabinet members visiting schools and Riley himself on a “Success Express” bus tour, which stopped at a number of rural schools.
Riley remained in his position as Secretary throughout the Clinton Administration, working particularly closely with Clinton and his top aides on domestic policy. His tenure saw the move toward standards-based educational reform come into full flower, yet he was always cognizant of the collaborative nature of the mission of the Department of Education. As he often said in speeches, “Our focus [education] is really a state and local responsibility, but a national priority.”
In 1999, Riley’s beloved alma mater, Furman University, established the Richard W. Riley Institute of Government, Politics, and Public Leadership, a nonpartisan organization to promote public service. Since leaving ED in January 2001, Riley has been actively engaged with its programs, which include the Diversity Leaders Initiative, WhatWorksSC awards for school excellence, Teachers of Government Fellowship, White-Riley-Peterson Fellows in afterschool leadership, a “Women and Politics” series, and the David Wilkins Legislative and Civic Awards program, which has become an essential event in each year’s opening of the General Assembly’s term in Columbia. He has been named a Distinguished Professor at Furman and at the University of South Carolina. He has remained committed to the cause of improving education, continuing to serve on and lead a variety of education initiatives. In addition, he continues as a partner of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, advocating for clients in education, government relations, corporate and other fields. He helped create the firm’s EducationCounsel, a mission-based team that promotes progressive education policy via client representation. He also continues to be involved with the Democratic Party and active in community causes in Greenville and throughout South Carolina.
South Carolina Political Collections, Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library, University of South Carolina. 1322 Greene St., Columbia, SC 29208.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Donated by the Honorable Richard W. Riley
2013-2017, by Dorothy Walker, with Clara Bertagnolli, Chauna Carr, Mae Howe, Katharine Klein, Sarah Lerch, Amy Lundell, Julie Milo, Mai Nguyen, Leslie Yarborough; 2019 accretion by Ann Abney
- Clinton, Bill (William Jefferson)
- Education -- South Carolina.
- Education -- South Carolina.
- Educational law and legislation -- South Carolina.
- Greenville County (S.C.)
- Lawyers -- United States.
- South Carolina -- Politics and government -- 1951-
- South Carolina -- Politics and government -- 1951-
- United States Department of Education
- Washington (D.C.) -- Politics and government.
Part of the South Carolina Political Collections Repository
Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library
1322 Greene St.
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208 USA
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