Betty Jo Rhea | Women Vision SC

Former Mayor of Rock Hill

Betty Jo Rhea served as Mayor of Rock Hill for 12 years and as a member of the City Council for 8 years. She was referred to as “the people’s mayor.”   When she took over as mayor, unemployment stood at over 17% and textile mills had declined from 13 to only one.  Under her leadership, the community started business parks and attracted several international companies to Rock Hill.  She fostered a sports complex that has since  paved the way for a city now known for being an amateur sports  mecca.  From baseball and softball, the city has added facilities including  soccer, tennis, and cycling. After retiring as mayor, Betty Jo Rhea has hosted a local television show called “City Minutes” for nearly 20 years, interviewing a variety of individuals in the Rock Hill community.  She remains a steadfast champion of the arts, historic preservation and beautification.

About the Honoree

Elizabeth Josephine Dunlap “Betty Jo” was born in 1929 to James O. Dunlap, MD “Jo” and Elizabeth Dunlap “Betty.” Betty Jo attended the Winthrop Training School through grade 10 and the St. Genevieve School in Asheville for grades 11 and 12. Upon graduation, she attended Barry College in Miami, Florida for a year before returning to Rock Hill and Winthrop University.

She has made a significant difference in reshaping Rock Hill and in inspiring leaders in other South Carolina cities as well as other communities in the United States. U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham referred to her as “the peoples’ mayor.” She served with distinction and grace working effectively across the socioeconomic spectrum while always wearing her elegant signature scarves. Betty Jo successfully ran for elective office in 1978 attaining a seat on Rock Hill’s City Council. She served in that capacity for 8 years and as Mayor Pro Tem for 2 years. She then successfully ran for Mayor serving for 12 years from 1986 to 1998.

As an elected official during the years of 1978 to 1998, she held numerous leadership roles in local, state, and national organizations. A few of those professional organizations are: U.S. Conference of Mayors Board of Trustees, National Board of Cities, President of Municipal Association of SC, SC Museum Board of Trustees, Piedmont Medical Center Women's Advisory Board, and the Winthrop University Board of Visitors and Foundation Board.

Betty Jo’s service on the City Council, coupled with her leadership as Mayor, inspired others and produced notable results. A few of these results included a revitalization and diversification of the Rock Hill economy, made evident by 4 new business parks, and development as a national sports tourism destination. She was also the leader in creating a long term strategic plan called “Empowering the Vision” which was adopted and led to the commissioning and installation of two major pieces of public art: Civitas and Mighty Casey.

Since retiring as Mayor, Betty Jo has hosted a local television show called “City Minutes” for nearly 20 years. She interviews a wide variety of individuals who make a positive impact on the Rock Hill community. Community visions and initiatives under her mayoral administration continue to come to fruition now and will into the future.

About Women Vision SC

Women Vision SC is a program that focuses on issues affecting women throughout the state and the nation and a new generation of young people pursuing public service for their communities and the state at large. The program is produced and hosted by former SCETV president Linda O’Bryon.