A few years ago, Wendell Gilliard suggested a good name for MUSC's Ashley River Tower. The Charleston state representative wanted the state-of-the-art facility to honor Dr. Alonzo Clifton McClennan and registered nurse Anna Decosta Banks. It was a classy nod to local history.
McClennan not only established the city's first black drugstore, he also led the effort to open a hospital and nurse training center for African-Americans. He then served as medical director for the Cannon Street Hospital for 15 years. Banks was the first head nurse and superintendent of nurses at the training center, serving there for more than three decades.
Gilliard's proposal died a lonely death in a legislative subcommittee, and he has never forgotten it. So he was less than thrilled to hear that the Medical University of South Carolina will name its new research center for U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn.
Yeah, a politician.
MUSC President Ray Greenberg said the center was named for Clyburn not because he brought in money for it, but "because of his leadership, at both the state and national levels, in helping to address health issues, and in particular, disparities in health."
That is a good reason, certainly better than "he got us the money" -- which he didn't. But the choice gives some credence to Gilliard's reservations. See, there's this other center in Orangeburg named for Clyburn, a South Carolina State University transportation center.
Perhaps you haven't heard of it since it mostly doesn't exist yet. The money for it went missing, or something like that.
"That's the liability part of it," Gilliard says. "You name a building or a bridge for someone and then they or a relative does something ..."
It is a gamble to name things for the living, but luckily we usually get it right. Who can argue against buildings named after James B. Edwards or Fritz Hollings? But now and then you get a stretch of interstate named after Andre Bauer.
Now, no offense to the former lieutenant governor -- Bauer is a nice guy -- but given his highly publicized driving record, is a 70 mph highway really the best way to pat him on the back?
So Gilliard has a new bill now. He wants the state to stop naming anything after any living politician.
It's a good idea, one that many states adopted as policy long ago. Gilliard says he has support from both sides of the aisle. Part of that may be a result of the Clyburn center -- not MUSC's, but S.C. State's. Still, he's going to need a lot of luck.
If you look at the sheer number of bills lawmakers file in a given year, a good number of them are proposals to name something after themselves. They even do it as a joke sometimes (see: Alex Sanders Bridge on Interstate 77). So what Gilliard is selflessly trying to do is going to require the cooperation of a lot of people who have a lifelong goal of seeing their name on the side of a building.
Asking politicians to lay off their building-size egos? Good luck.
Follow Brian Hicks on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.