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Longtime South Carolina journalist John Shurr dies

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- John Shurr, a longtime journalist and open government advocate who was The Associated Press' bureau chief in South Carolina for 20 years, has died. He was 67.

John Shurr, long time South Carolina Associated Press bureau chief, is seen in a 2004 photo. Shurr, a longtime journalist and open government advocate who was The Associated Press' bureau chief in South Carolina for 20 years, died Sunday morning, March 1, 2015, said Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association, and a longtime friend. He was 67. (AP Photo)

Shurr died at his home Sunday morning, said Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association, and a longtime friend. Shurr played the key role in bringing cameras and microphones inside South Carolina courts and was a longtime chairman of the South Carolina Press Association's Freedom of Information Committee.

After his retirement in 2007, Shurr gave an interview to the press group, saying his work on Freedom of Information Act lawsuits that helped bring down University of South Carolina President James Holderman was his favorite part of his legacy.

During the lawsuits, the university foundation said it accidentally threw out four years of records, but Shurr got a tip the documents were intentionally dumped in a landfill. Shurr and The Greenville News rented heavy equipment and dug them up. The foundation's financial director would later tell authorities he was told to destroy them.

Holderman was eventually charged with tax evasion. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to five years of probation.

"It was most satisfying because I didn't get fired after running up a quarter-million dollar legal bill," Shurr said during the interview.

Instead, a judge ordered the foundation and others to pay the legal bills for AP and The Greenville News.

"They also made them pay for our front-end loader," Shurr said, chuckling.

In 1988, the state Supreme Court unanimously voted to refuse to allow cameras or tape recorders in courtrooms. But Shurr continued to set up meetings between judges, lawyers and journalists, and in 1992, largely due to Shurr's efforts, South Carolina courts began an experiment allowing cameras in the courts. Today, it is commonplace.

Jim Clarke, AP bureau chief for Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming, worked for Shurr in Columbia in the 1990s.

"John was exactly what you want a bureau chief to be, passionate about freedom of information, passionate about quality journalism and passionate about the AP and its members," Clarke said.

Shurr was the creator and author of "A Public Official's Guide to the S.C. Freedom of Information." Tens of thousands of copies of the book have been distributed to public officials and journalists.

He enjoyed sailing and tennis and was part of the Cherokee Nation from his native Oklahoma.

"John served his country with distinction in the military and was a servant to the Cherokee people on the Phoenix editorial board," Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said in a statement. "His work and patriotism will long be remembered."


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