King Dixon, 83, dies of cancer
• Friends, colleagues remember USC, local legend below
King Dixon, former athletic director and football star at the University of South Carolina, retired U.S. Marine Corps officer and the champion of countless local causes, died Monday evening after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 83.
“He’s the measure that I’ve sort of judged myself by whenever there’s a community initiative or something that needs to be done,” said Laurens Mayor Nathan Senn. “He was at the top of a short list of folks people would call because they felt like he would engender widespread community support.
“There was an underlying belief that if King was for it, then it was good for Laurens County.”
Dixon is survived by his wife of 61 years, Augusta, their three sons (Albert King
III, Augustus and Lee) along with their wives and four children.
A service of thanksgiving is scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday at First Presbyterian Church of Laurens. The service, which is limited to family members, will be livestreamed through the Kennedy Mortuary website. A private interment service with full military honors is will follow at Forest Lawn Cemetery.
Dixon sat on numerous boards and commissions in Laurens County and statewide. He was instrumental in the creation of the Laurens County Development Corporation, headed the Laurens District 55 Education Foundation, worked with local Boy Scouts and most recently was spearheading an effort to build a memorial park to recognize the county’s fallen veterans.
He excelled as a halfback from 1956-58 for the Gamecocks after starring for the Laurens High School Tigers in multiple sports. He chose South Carolina over Clemson, despite late overtures from legendary Clemson head coach Frank Howard. In the book “Game of My Life,” a memoir of several former Gamecocks detailing their most memorable games, Dixon recounted a telegram that came from Howard.
“King, you have been an outstanding Tiger for four years,” the telegram read. “Don’t fowl it up today. Your coach, Frank Howard.”
Before he was done at South Carolina, Dixon helped the Gamecocks to a 26-6 upset over then 10th-ranked Clemson in 1958. The all-ACC performer also led South Carolina to an upset at No. 20 Texas in 1957.
“One of several athletic directors I had the privilege to work with at (USC), King Dixon was a Gamecock through and through,” wrote Kerry Tharp, former USC sports information director and current president of Darlington Raceway, on Twitter. “Thoughts and prayers to the Dixon family.”
After graduating cum laude with a degree in political science, Dixon spent the next 22 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, a career that included tours in Vietnam. During his military carer, he received the Bronze Star, the Navy Commendation with Combat V for Heroic Services and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star.
After his retirement from the Marines, Dixon returned to Columbia in 1988 to take over as South Carolina’s athletic director, overseeing the Gamecocks’ entry into the Southeastern Conference.
His occasionally controversial tenure as athletic director, which included the end of the Joe Morrison football era and the hire of Sparky Woods as head coach, ended in 1993 when he returned to Laurens with his wife, Augusta. The two had been sweethearts since the third grade.
Once back in Laurens, Dixon entered the private sector, but also began nearly three decades of philanthropy and service locally.
“This is probably one of the biggest setbacks we’ve had recently in Laurens County,” said Jim Coleman, a longtime friend and former County Council chairman. “King was truly a gentleman and statesman. He could bring people together when no one else could.”
Amanda Munyan, president and CEO of the Laurens County Chamber of Commerce, said Dixon had been a major influence on her both personally and professionally over the years.
“I can’t even put into words the impact and role he has played,” she said. “He was such a great motivator and a positive person who will be greatly missed on so many levels. . . . I don’t know how one man could do so much in his lifetime.”
Jonathan Coleman, president and CEO of the Laurens County Development Corporation, said the old Marine would occasionally make an appearance as Dixon worked to get things accomplished.
“He wasn’t a political figure, and I think that kind of helped bring consensus around the table,” Jonathan Coleman said. “He wasn’t afraid to step on some toes if they needed to be stepped on and that’s how you get things accomplished. Being a Lt. Colonel in the Marines would come out every now and then, but sometimes you can’t be afraid of what people think when you’re trying to lead.”
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster appointed Dixon to temporarily fill a spot on the University of South Carolina Board of Trustees on New Year’s Eve this past year. Dixon filled the spot left vacant due to the death of A.C. “Bubba” Fennell of Greenwood, who also died of cancer.
“I can’t think of a greater honor than to serve my university and the people of South Carolina,” Dixon said of receiving the call from McMaster.
He also worked recently to erect a memorial park honoring fallen veterans. The memorial park is planned to be funded by money raised from a proposed Capital Project Sales Tax that will be voted on by county voters in November’s General Election. It is to be built at the Laurens County Library location on land purchased on West Main Street in Laurens as Dixon helped lead the negotiations.
“He’s the reason the county library is where it is,” Senn said. “He negotiated with the Adair family to make that happen. In addition to all the things we know about, he did all sorts of behind-the-scenes stuff for this county.”
“King Dixon’s service and dedication on behalf of his nation and state are quite remarkable. His contributions to the Laurens community changed the lives of many. Peggy and I are praying for his wife, Augusta, and the Dixon family.” – South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster
“What a great American. King Dixon loved the Gamecocks. I am forever indebted to him, as he was the man who hired me to Columbia, S.C. in March of 1990. As a Marine, he had a high standard, and did not compromise. I always felt he would be disappointed if you did not do your job, but even more disappointed if you screwed up for the Gamecocks. Prayers to the Dixon family. RIP.” – Rod Walters, former South Carolina assistant athletic director
“We are saddened by the news of King Dixon’s passing. Thankful that many knew him and how much he did for the USC family. He will he missed by many.” – USC Union-Laurens Location
“Laurens County School District 55 is saddened by the passing of King Dixon. Dixon was the perfect example of an American Hero, Servant Leader in the community, and a “true” Laurens Raider. Dixon lettered four years in football, basketball, baseball, and track at Laurens High School as a Tiger.” – Laurens County School District 55
“He loved Raider Athletics more than anyone I knew and kept that passion all the time. He didn’t like us to lose in anything. Dixon will be missed in the community and always remembered. Please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers.” – Laurens District High Athletic Director Tommy Spires
“It is with great sadness to report this morning of the passing of King Dixon, King served on the SCDYB and National Board for over 20 years. The “O” Zone Sportsmanship Trophy is dedicated in his name. Please keep his wife Augusta and the family in your prayers. Semper Fi Marine!” – SC Dixie Youth Baseball
“I am without words. King Dixon? Please no. What a giant of a man. A good and decent human being. A man who led, often without realizing it. God blessed South Carolina and Laurens County with this man.” – Randy Stevens, WLBG Radio
“So saddened to learn this morning that the great, King Dixon passed away last night. Laurens, the State, and the Nation have lost one of America’s finest! Our prayers go out to his wife, Augusta and the family.” – Wayne Neal, Laurens
“Of all the people who has lived in South Carolina, that contributed to the growth and welfare of our community, none gave back of his personal time more than King Dixon. He was loved and respected by all. He will be missed by his high school class mates, college friends and those who meet him thru this journey of life.” – Jayhue Weisner, Laurens
“I am very proud to have known King Dixon. He was everything we all should strive to be. Laurens County is forever thankful for you.” – Scott Todd, Laurens
“Upward and Onward!” King you sir mean a lot to a lot of young people. Your positive attitude and always having a smile will live on forever with Toop and Pack 339. – Peter Lindley, Laurens County Boy Scout Troop 339
“So sorry to hear that King Dixon had passed. Laurens County will miss him and his efforts to grow our County. We shared a lot of fun ref. South Carolina and Clemson, but he was always a true gentleman. I will miss him! – Zeke Benjamin, Mountville