James Risher was born November 5, 1932, in Hampton County, South Carolina, to the late Mr. Evans Risher and Mrs. Rosa Lee McKay Risher. James Risher married his beloved wife, Mary Ann Gooding, in 1954, and together they reared four sons and a daughter. He was baptized at an early age at St. Peter African Methodist Episcopal Church, where he served as a class leader, a member of the church steward board, superintendent for church school, treasurer, and lay president for the Beaufort District.
James Risher became mayor of Gifford four years after it was incorporated in 1972. Under his leadership, the town built and implemented a water and sewer system, a fire department, a fire station, acquired three fire trucks, and obtained the use of the “Hanna House,” where a grant was awarded for restoration.
The Honorable Mayor Risher would later receive a grant to purchase a truck, a tractor, and a police cruiser. In addition to purchasing an emergency generator for water and sewer, he purchased street lights and Christmas lights for the beautification of the town.
During Mayor Risher’s administration, he promoted and expanded the Sixth of June festival, or “Junefest,” which began as a day-long festival known as “Family Day Picnic.” It was established in 1896 by deacons and a pastor of Long Branch Baptist Church to give thanks for a successful agricultural planting season. It commemorates the day that many believed to be the day that news of the Emancipation Proclamation first reached the citizens of Gifford.
As a result of Mayor Risher’s efforts, Junefest would become a week-long event, which is a major attraction among the communities of Hampton County and former citizens and friends from across the country. The festivities include a parade, a beauty pageant, gospel programs, a carnival, a softball tournament, and lots of food.
Mayor Risher served his community and state as a councilman for the Town of Gifford for eight years, a board member for Hampton School District Two for 12 years, president of the Hampton County NAACP for ten years, president and treasurer for the South Carolina Council of Black Mayors for ten years, a board member for the National Black Mayors for 12 years, a valued employee for Savannah River Plant after 42 years of service, and a member of Gifford Lodge #359.
The South Carolina House of Representatives recognized James Risher for 37 years, honoring him for his devotion to his community and state. They expressed their appreciation for his significant leadership in promoting the Sixth of June festival. The Honorable James Risher was recognized by the Arnold Fields Community Endowment, where he was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, March 12, 2016, with his granddaughter as his escort. James was the first African American in the state of South Carolina to serve as mayor for 37 years.
Although Mayor Risher held many positions, his most prized positions were that of a devoted son, husband, father, and grandfather. His desire was to make the world a better place for his children, grandchildren, and all that followed.
He is preceded in death by his parents; spouse, Mary Ann Gooding Risher; children, James Risher, Jr., and Phyllis Ann Risher; brothers, Thomas Lewis Risher and John B. McCoy; and sisters, Maude Baker, Betty Mitchell, and Louise Tolbert. On November 28, 2020, he made his peaceful transition to be with the Lord at the Coastal Carolina Hospital, Hardeeville, South Carolina.
He leaves to cherish fond memories: sons, Reginald (Marie) Risher of Gifford, SC, Dennis (Vanessa) Risher of Columbia, SC., and Leonard (Vicki) Risher of Gifford, SC.; daughter-in-law, Carolyn Risher of Gifford, SC.; sisters, Rosa Mae Cox of Fort Worth, Texas, Dorothy Risher of Brooklyn, NY., and Lillie Dial of Fort Worth, Texas; 13 grandchildren, including three grandchildren reared in the home: Ariel Michelle (Reginald) McKenzie, James L. (Katrina) Risher, and Sasha Risher; 21 great-grandchildren; and a host of many nieces, nephews, cousins, other relatives, and sorrowing friends.
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