Back to former South Carolina governors
Richard Wilson Riley
South Carolina

Gov. Richard Wilson Riley

  • January 10, 1979 - January 14, 1987
  • Democratic
  • January 2, 1933
  • South Carolina
  • Furman University, South Carolina School of Law
  • Married Ann Riley; four children
  • Cabinet secretary
  • Navy


RICHARD WILSON RILEY was born in Greenville County, South Carolina. He graduated cum laude from Furman University in 1954, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science. He then served for two years as a communications officer in the U.S. Navy aboard a minesweeper. Following his naval service, Riley earned a law degree from the South Carolina School of Law. After serving for a year as legal counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, he returned to South Carolina to join his family’s law firm in Greenville and Simpsonville. In 1962, he was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives, where he served for four years. He was then elected to the state Senate, serving until 1976. During his two gubernatorial terms, Riley chaired the Southern Governors’ Association and the Southern Growth Policies Board. He served two terms on the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations: the first, from 1977 to 1979, as a private citizen; and the second, from 1979 to 1981, as governor. In 1981, the National Wildlife Federation presented Riley with the Connie award for special conservation achievement. Winning national recognition for his highly successful effort to improve education in South Carolina, he was appointed Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education by President Bill Clinton, a post in which he served for eight years. After leaving the Department of Education in early 2001, Riley returned to the private practice of law. He currently serves as well as a trustee of the Carnegie Corporation and is a Distinguished Professor at his alma mater–Furman University–and Advisory Board Chair of the Richard W. Riley Institute of Government, Politics and Leadership there.


Governors of the American States, Commonwealths and Territories, National Governors’ Conference, 1986.

U.S. Department of Education


Carnegie Corporation of New York

Recent South Carolina Governors