James G. “Jim” Mattos, a dedicated educator, coach, legislator and servant to the people of South Carolina, died peacefully at his home in Greenville on March 19, 2020. In his 88 years of life, Jim touched the lives of many from every walk of life. He lived life with a purpose and vigor guided by his own mantra: “Every day is a holiday; every meal, a banquet.”
Many will remember Jim for his work as an educator. For three decades, he served as a teacher and athletic coach at Berea High School. In recognition of his commitment to education, Jim was named State Teacher of the Year in 1978. Among his many achievements, one of his proudest was his involvement in the peaceful and meaningful integration of the schools and athletic programs in Greenville County, so that all children could have an equal opportunity to learn and to grow.
As a coach, Jim led the basketball and track teams at Berea High School for 29 years. He then went on to serve as the high school’s athletic director for 16 years, retiring in 1992. While at Berea, Jim guided the basketball team to five regional championships and reached the state playoffs seven times. He coached the track team to win eight regional championships. As a testament to his devotion to his students and athletes, Jim was honored as South Carolina State Coach of the Year twice in two different sports: for basketball in 1979 and for track in 1983. In addition, Jim was awarded 12 regional coach of the year awards. In recognition of his service and stewardship, Jim was honored by entry into four separate halls of fame: the South Carolina Coaches Athletic Hall of Fame, the Greenville High School Hall of Fame, the Greenville County School District Hall of Fame, and the Berea High School Hall of Fame. In 1997, Berea High School named the school’s basketball gymnasium the “James Mattos Gymnasium” in honor of Jim’s service to the students and community at Berea.
Jim went on to achieve an equally accomplished career as a public servant. Upon his retirement from teaching, Jim served the people of his community in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1984 through 1994. As a legislator, Jim worked tirelessly to protect and advance the livelihood of the people of South Carolina. Jim authored the pioneering State Immunizations Bill, which is credited for saving countless lives, as well as for establishing new standards for healthcare and quality of life for families and citizens that were emulated by state legislatures across the country. For his work in the Legislature, he was awarded multiple State Legislator of the Year awards. After he left the Legislature, he continued his public service as a member of the State Board of Education from 1999 to 2004.
Jim was particularly committed to the mental health and welfare of South Carolina’s children. He served for many years as president and chairman of the board and later as an emeritus board member of the Meyer Center, a preschool for children with special needs. In recognition of his dedication to the welfare of children with special needs, in 1992, the South Carolina Department of Health named a cabin at Camp Burnt Gin, a camp for children with physical and chronic disabilities, the “Jim Mattos Cabin” in his honor.
Jim’s story begins in Greenville, the community he loved and served for nearly 90 years. A Greenville native, Jim was the son of a Greek immigrant, George, who came to America through Ellis Island as a young man in 1907. His father owned and operated the Indian River Fruit Store for 30 years on Main Street, at the same location where Starbucks on Main now stands.
Jim graduated from Greenville High School in 1950. As a member of the Greenville High track team, Jim set the South Carolina state record for the mile, a record he held for over a decade. Upon graduating, he attended Furman University on the first track scholarship in the university’s history. After his graduation from Furman, Jim married his childhood sweetheart, Caroline “Kitty” Mattos, in 1955. Kitty then joined him as he served as a First Lieutenant in the United States Army. Last year, Jim and Kitty celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary. With a dedication to public service that parallels her husband’s, Kitty served as the Greenville County Clerk of Court from 1980 to 1993. In fact, Kitty pulled panels for Greenville juries at a time when, as a woman, she could not serve on a jury herself.
Jim’s legacy extends beyond his many accomplishments. He loved his family and his community with an acceptance and grace that reflected his love for the Lord. A man of deep and abiding faith, Jim read the Bible each morning and prided himself on having read it completely, not once but twice. Jim was an active member of Earle Street Baptist Church and deeply cherished the support of pastor Stephen Clyborne and the greater Earle Street family. Jim carried his faith with him throughout his life, repeatedly meeting his personal challenge to “pay it forward” by providing for those in need.
Jim is survived by his wife Kitty, his children, Kim Paschal and her husband Pat, Cindy Mattos-DeHart and her husband Glenn, and Todd Mattos, a sister Liz Ward, as well as by Jim’s four grandchildren: Hogan, Mattos, Matt and his wife Kaylie, and Jake. Jim often told Kitty, “you’re the love of my life.” He will be remembered as the love of all.
A memorial service will be held at a later date after the Coronavirus pandemic has concluded. In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to Friends of Berea High School, 201 Burdine Drive, Greenville, SC, 29617, or the Meyer Center for Special Children, 1132 Rutherford Road, Greenville, SC 29609, in Jim’s honor.
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