On November 7, 1934, Oscar Rudolph Bishop and Ruth Steinmeyer Bishop welcomed their first child – a tiny, premature baby boy that they named Oscar Rudolph Bishop, Jr. They kept him warm in a small dresser drawer by the oven in their home, the old Fuller Plantation caretaker’s house on St. Helena Island. As their baby grew into a little boy, they began calling him “Sonny”.
Proverbs 22:1 says that, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches”. As he grew, his family and friends continued to call him Sonny – the Beaufort boy whose family was instrumental in developing truck farming on St. Helena Island. He lived a charmed South Carolina Lowcountry childhood – fishing, hunting, camping with his friends on Datha Island, helping on the farm, and getting into little boy shenanigans with his brother, Steve, with whom he was very close. He attended Beaufort schools and, in high school, was one of two teenage bus drivers who made the rounds on St. Helena Island to pick up students and take them to school in Beaufort. In the afternoon, he took them all home again safely.
He took on the name of Captain Bishop after graduating from Clemson University and, fulfilling his ROTC responsibilities, accepted a commission into the Army Signal Corps, which took him and his new wife, Mary, to New Jersey for six months. About that experience, he said that when he got back to Beaufort he was determined never to leave again. It is a promise he kept.
After returning home, he joined the family’s farming business and became “Mr. Sonny” to workers on Yard Farm, the central location on St. Helena Island for his grandfather’s truck farming enterprise, Fuller’s Farm (O.H. Bishop and Sons). He followed in his grandfather “Boss” Bishop’s footsteps, building relationships with people on the island who helped harvest and pack the many vegetables the farm grew throughout the year. People who worked on the farm knew Mr. Sonny to be a person they could go to when they needed assistance or a kind word. He was a steady, generous, and understanding employer and friend to them.
“Mr. B.” was the name given to him by students at Beaufort Academy, where he began working after the farm stopped operations in 1970. Hundreds of people who were students at Beaufort Academy during his tenure knew Mr. B. as a mentor and teacher who utilized his education (Beaufort High School, 1953; Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Chemistry, 1957, Clemson University; Master of Arts in Education, The Citadel) to turn math and science into subjects that they could understand. As Assistant Headmaster at Beaufort Academy, he was responsible for handling school discipline, but the students there knew him to be a consistent role model and guide for them, and he is fondly remembered by everyone who interacted with him.
As “Mr. Bishop”, he became an icon in the community – an expert in local lore and history which he shared widely on social media. He loved to impart his knowledge about Beaufort history and people loved to hear him talk about it. Because of his lifetime of watching coastal weather and his interest in meteorology, he was an accurate predictor of the weather and its impact on the island. His hurricane prediction posts on social media became well-known for his calm, practical, and reassuring messages about what to expect.
People who knew him as Mr. Bishop also knew him for his expert furniture refinishing and woodworking skills, which was his passion. For years, Bishop Enterprises provided quality craftsmanship for anyone in the area needing woodworking, because he could resurrect even the most damaged pieces of furniture and turn them into beautiful and functional masterpieces. One of the builds he was most proud of is the chancel furniture at Sea Island Presbyterian Church – the baptistry, chairs, and pulpit – all of which he built by hand. After retiring from his refinishing business, he was bored and, tapping into his ever-present entrepreneurial spirit, he developed a mobile knife sharpening and lawnmower repair business that he operated until he experienced a stroke in 2018, rendering him unable to continue.
As a father and grandfather, he was “Daddy”, “Pop”, and “Papa”. He demonstrated for us a spirit of lifelong learning, the enjoyment of having simple fun, and a level of patience and reasonable thinking about problems and adversities that has become an example for his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to follow. We relished his stories and his Beaufort history lessons, and this is what inspired his book “A Place Called Home”, which he co-authored with his daughter, Elizabeth. We knew that, because of his ingenuity and skill, anything that needed to be fixed, built, or refurbished could be done by him, and he was the master of “Frogmore Engineering” (it doesn’t have to be pretty; it just has to work). He has passed down to us his love for music, his fascination with space and the universe, and his peaceful approach to life.
While he was known by all these names by those who knew him, the most important name given to him was that of “Bishop”, by his wife Mary. Theirs is a love story that spans 66 years – a union that is built on mutual respect, support, and complete dedication. Their love of music brought them together, he on his clarinet and she on her piano, and music was a binding thread that ran through all of their years together. Throughout their marriage they played together at hundreds of church services and community events, and there were many nights Mary sat up late transposing music into the key of B flat so that Bishop could play his clarinet with her. Their involvement in church music – she with her organ playing skills, and him with his clarinet and beautiful tenor voice – was a blessing to many.
Bishop and Mary did everything together – trips to the mountains, concerts in Charleston, household projects. Through their entire marriage they have never stopped holding hands – a life lesson for every married couple to follow.
While this man of many names may not be physically with us anymore, his legacy will live on in those who knew him – whether it be through a remembered piece of advice, a shared tip on how to build something, a feeling from one of the thousands of photographs he took, or one of his many stories that made us laugh or taught us something we didn’t know before. By whatever name you knew him, it is assured that you were blessed by his presence in your life.
He was one of only a few true Beaufortonians left in the area, and his passing on November 25, 2021 at his home on St. Helena Island – only a few yards away from where he was born – leaves us immensely sad, but also extremely grateful that we know, love, and are loved by this incredible man.
He is survived by his wife, Mary; son, Rudy Bishop (Denise) of St. Helena Island; daughter, Elizabeth Bishop Later (Kent) of Fortson, Georgia; sister, Patricia “Patty” Bishop Hudson (Roy) of Walterboro, South Carolina; five grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, and by four brothers (Herbert Stephen Bishop, James Marion Bishop, Frederick Russell Bishop, and Robert Wayne “Hezzie” Bishop).
The family will receive family and friends from 10 until 11 o’clock Tuesday morning, November 30, 2021, at St. John’s Lutheran Church – 157 Lady’s Island Drive, Beaufort.
The funeral service will be held at 11 o’clock Tuesday morning, November 30, 2021, at St. John’s Lutheran Church – 157 Lady’s Island Drive, Beaufort. Burial will be in Evergreen Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family recommends an online donation to one of the following:
◆ St. John’s Lutheran Church music fund (stjohnsbeaufort.org)
◆ Beaufort County Open Land Trust (openlandtrust.org)
◆ Beaufort County Library (beaufortcountylibrary.org)