AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WJBF) – Tuesday night, Aiken County Council Member for District 8, Willar Hightower, Jr., publicly announced that his 36-years of representing his district must come to an end, more than 19 months before the end of his current term.

During a meeting of the Aiken County Council for a 2024 budget work session, Executive Director of Aiken County Registration and Elections Cynthia Holland addressed Councilman Hightower’s resignation, set for the end of the month, and noting that a special election would be required to fill the set.

Hightower’s resignation letter was shared with WJBF by Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian, who also recently announced his own retirement.

In the letter, Hightower wrote Aiken County election officials that “my family and I have determined that it would be the best for District #8 for me to focus my time building my strength to overcome several major health issues.”

He described the task of reaching this decision as one him embarked on with “a heavy heart,” but a necessary one after more than 40 years as an elected official in Aiken County.

Councilman Hightower graduated from Schofield Normal and Industrial School in 1960 years before the end of legal segregation in Aiken County schools, later graduating from South Carolina State University in Orangeburg and going on to lead a full career in engineering for DuPont and Westinghouse at Savannah River Site before retiring.

Starting first as an Aiken City Councilman, Hightower served the municipal government for five years, before running to fill the  District 8 Council Seat, a position he held for the next 36 years.

Hightower was not finished with his education, though, going on to receive a Master’s Degree in Divinity from the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta in 2010. He continues to be an active member of Friendship Baptist Church in Aiken.

His decades of experience in the local government taught him the skills necessary to hold that position, he told WJBF, writing in email correspondence concerning his long, second career as an Aiken elected official, that he’d learned that representing his District required the “critical” skill of argumentation – one that, following a stroke on April 2nd, 2022, he no longer believed he possess the physical ability to do, having been left with significant speech impediments in the wake of the stroke, he confided with WJBF.

As Councilman Hightower approaches his 80th year of life, his career as a politician now has encompassed more than half his life.

He wrote WJBF to say that, because the health struggles of the past year, his decision has been in line with his belief that he has served his “Aiken constituency …, I feel, with honor and dedication to the people” he represents. Now, though, the physical requirements of the job have not aligned with the progress of his recovery.

In his resignation letter, Councilman reserved an entire paragraph to praise the efforts of his parents to raise him, writing, “I have served standing on the shoulders of my parents, Reverend Willard H. [for whom he was named] and Janie Sweeney Hightower.”

He goes on to say that he’d been raised by his parents to know “that it is not about me, but about improving the lives of those I have represented int eh City and County of Aiken.”

As he closed his resignation letter, he wrote, “I pray that the council will continue to focus on constituent service,” noting that, before he is completely done with public service for the people of Aiken County, there remains several matters of “unfinished business,” including improvements at Nicholson Village, where Councilman Hightower helped usher into existence a community center at 302 Community Drive roughly a decade ago; the continued project of getting the roads in his district paved; and a community boxing gym.

His final word for the Aiken County Council in his letter was “Godspeed!”

As to whether he plans to endorse a candidate to fill his long-held seat, Hightower tells WJBF that he only plans to endorse a candidate after May 31st, but that it will be someone he feels has the best interests of District 8 in mind going forward.

Councilman Hightower’s current term was not set to end until December 31st, 2024.