FLORENCE, S.C. – Brian Kelley, the president and chief executive officer of Pee Dee Electric Cooperative, died suddenly Tuesday evening after a heart attack. He was 42.
During his years with PDEC, Kelley served as the chief administrative officer, vice president of marketing and vice president of member service before becoming president and CEO in 2015. Before joining Pee Dee Electric, he worked for global packaging company Sonoco Products Co.
Longtime friend and coworker Katie Wilcox said Kelley was not only well-liked within the company but also well-respected. Wilcox said Kelley always valued the opinions of others and was a strong leader and knowledgeable businessman.
“He was always one step ahead of the game,” Wilcox said. “He was a very forward thinker, a really strong leader and irreplaceable to me.”
Wilcox had been friends with Kelley long before she was hired at PDEC in 2014, and she said Kelley will always hold a very dear place in her heart.
“He was just a standup guy,” Wilcox said. “He was a truly good, kind-hearted and respectful man.”
Kelley was both a leader in his career as well as the Florence community. he served on multiple boards, including the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, Florence County Economic Development Partnership, Florence Regional Arts Alliance, the Florence Career Center Advisory Committee and the Florence Education and Economic Development Task Force.
Joe King, executive director of the Florence County Economic Development Partnership, said the news of Kelley’s death came as a shock but said Kelley will be memorialized as someone who just wanted what was best for Florence County, his company and his customers.
“I couldn’t believe it. It’s tragic,” King said. “I feel sorry for his family and his family at Pee Dee Electric.”
Mike Miller, president of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, worked alongside Kelley during the past year. Miller said everyone on the board of directors was excited to have Kelley as a part of their team “due to his fresh approach and genuine community-minded outlook on things.”
“He was a special person being able to connect with people across all age groups and business platforms. He was unique in that sense,” Miller said. “This is quite a loss, leaving many shaking their heads in sadness.”
Kelley also was a member of the Florence Rotary Club since 2005. Florence Rotary Club President Randy Cole said Kelley was a dedicated Rotarian and will be remembered for “his energy and his passion for people.”
“It’s sad for the community and of course for our Rotarians, too,” Cole said. “We’re going to miss a great leader in our community.”
Kelley was born and raised in Poughkeepsie, New York, and moved to South Carolina in 1992 when he attended Francis Marion University. During his time as a Patriot, Kelley held double majors in economics and political science, was a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and was elected president of the Student Government Association.
Upon his graduation in 1996, Kelley began his career at PDEC as an industrial/commercial marketing representative until changing careers in 1998 to join Sonoco. Kelley rejoined PDEC in 2002. Kelley is survived by his wife of 18 years, Deborah; his parents; and his younger brother, Tom.