Richard Wilson Riley

81st Governor of the State of South Carolina 1979 to 1987

Date Born: January 22, 1933

Date Died: Living

Place Born: Greenville County, SC

Place Buried: TBD

Residence: Greenville, SC

Occupation: Lawyer, Served on a Minesweeper in US Navy


Furman University: 1954, Cum Laude; University of South Carolina, law degree: 1959

SC House of Representatives: 1963-1966

SC Senate: 1967-1976

1978 General Election - Richard Wilson Riley defeated Edward L. Young for the office of governor

November 4, 1980 – Voters approved an amendment to the SC Constitution allowing Governors to serve two consecutive terms, if elected

1982 General Election - Richard Wilson Riley defeated W.D. Workman for the office of governor

1979-1987 – By the end of Gov. Richard Wilson Riley's second term, he had visited each of the state's ninety-one school districts

U.S. Secretary of Education, 1992-2000


Richard Wilson Riley was born on January 2, 1933 in Greenville County, SC, the son of Edward Paterson Riley and Martha (Dixon) Riley. He graduated from Greenville High School, then went to Furman University, where he was President of the Student Council and graduated Cum Laude in 1954.

Riley was then commissioned a Lieutenant, Junior Grade in the U.S. Navy and served as an Operations Officer on a mine sweeper control ship. Upon his return home, he studied law at the University of South Carolina and graduated in 1959. For a brief time, he worked as Legal Counsel to a U.S. Senate judiciary committee, then settled in Greenville, SC. He joined his father and brother in the law firm of Riley & Riley, with offices in Simpsonville and Greenville.

On August 23, 1957, Richard Wilson Riley married Ann Osteen Yarborough, daughter of Hubert Edward Yarborough, Jr. and Anne (Osteen) Yarborough of Florence, SC. They had four children.

In the 1962 general election, Richard Wilson Riley was first elected as one of eleven men to represent Greenville County in the House of Representatives of the:
- 95th General Assembly that met from 1963-1964
- 96th General Assembly that met from 1965-1966

In the 1966 general election, Richard Wilson Riley was first elected as one of four men to represent SC Senate District No. 3, which included Greenville County, in the SC Senate of the:
- 97th General Assembly that met from 1967-1868
- 98th General Assembly that met from 1969-1970
- 99th General Assembly that met from 1971-1972

In the 1972 general election, Richard Wilson Riley was first elected as one of five men to represent SC Senate District No. 2, which included Greenville County and Laurens County, of the:
- 100th General Assembly that met from 1972-1974
- 101st General Assembly that met from 1975-1976

He declined to seek re-election in the SC Senate in 1976, and turned his attention to national politics. In 1976, he served as state chairman of Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign, and in 1977-1978 he was a member of the U.S. Advisory Committee on inter-governmental relations.

In the 1978 general election, Richard Wilson Riley was elected as Governor of South Carolina and he was inaugurated on January 10, 1979. Gov. Riley had the reputation as an excellent negotiator and compromiser. In favor of a two-term gubernatorial succession, he was able to persuade both the public and the legislature to amend the state constitution to allow a governor to succeed himself. He was then re-elected in 1982 and was inaugurated a second time on January 12, 1983, the first elected to consecutive terms since Gov. Thomas Gordon McLeod. He served until 1987.

In December of 1992, President William Jefferson Clinton chose Richard Wilson Riley to be Secretary of Education after he won national recognition for his highly successful effort to improve education in South Carolina. Secretary Riley helped launch historic initiatives to raise academic standards; to improve instruction for the poor and disadvantaged; to expand grants and loan programs to help more Americans go to college; to prepare young people for the world of work; and to improve teaching. He also helped to create the Partnership for Family Involvement in Education, which today includes over 4,000 groups.

Secretary Riley’s efforts were so successful that President Clinton asked him to stay on in his second term to lead the President’s national crusade for excellence in education. Riley and the President agreed that education must be America’s number one priority in the years ahead. In the second term, Secretary Riley helped win an historic ruling by the F.C.C. to give schools and libraries deep discounts for Internet access and telecommunications services and helped win major improvements in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Riley’s goal included helping all children to master the basics of reading and math; making schools safer; reducing class sizes in grades 1-3 by helping states and schools to hire 100,000 more good teachers; modernizing and building new schools to meet record-breaking student enrollments and to help students learn to use computers; and expanding after-school programs.

In 1999, Furman University, Richard Wilson Riley's alma mater, created the Richard W. Riley Institute of Government, Politics and Public Leadership in his honor. In 2000, Riley received the Foreign Language Advocacy Award from the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in recognition of his support for education and especially for his repeated recommendations that all students learn a second language. In 2008, Walden University renamed its college of education the Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership, in honor of Riley's "commitment to students, his legacy of improving access to higher education, and his focus on diversity in education." Winthrop University also renamed its college of education after Riley in 2000.

Richard Wilson Riley serves as an Honorary Co-Chair for the World Justice Project. The World Justice Project works to lead a global, multidisciplinary effort to strengthen the Rule of Law for the development of communities of opportunity and equity.


Richard Wilson Riley was born in Greenville County, SC. He graduated cum laude from Furman University in 1954, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science. He then served for two years as a communications officer in the U.S. Navy aboard a minesweeper. Following his naval service, Riley earned a law degree from the South Carolina School of Law. After serving for a year as legal counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, he returned to SC to join his family's law firm in Greenville and Simpsonville. In 1962, he was elected to the SC House of Representatives, where he served for four years. He was then elected to the SC Senate, serving until 1976. During his two gubernatorial terms, Riley chaired the Southern Governors' Association and the Southern Growth Policies Board. He served two terms on the Advisory Commission on Inter-governmental Relations: the first, from 1977 to 1979, as a private citizen; and the second, from 1979 to 1981, as governor. In 1981, the National Wildlife Federation presented Riley with the Connie award for special conservation achievement. Winning national recognition for his highly successful effort to improve education in SC, he was appointed Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education by President Bill Clinton, a post in which he served for eight years. After leaving the Department of Education in early 2001, Riley returned to the private practice of law. He currently serves as well as a trustee of the Carnegie Corporation and is a Distinguished Professor at his alma mater--Furman University--and Advisory Board Chair of the Richard W. Riley Institute of Government, Politics and Leadership there.

<< Last Governor - James Burrows Edwards

Next Governor - Carroll Ashmore Campbell, Jr. >>



© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved