Oil and Water

The many routes McClellanville’s Lionel S. Lofton took before law

Published in 2016 South Carolina Super Lawyers magazine

By Trevor Kupfer on April 22, 2016


There aren’t really service stations anymore, where you can go in and actually get your oil changed and a grease job and that sort of thing. You have to go to one of these specialized places. But when I was young, my stepfather owned an oil company, so we ran a service station and I worked there. I also drove the oil truck in the summer to deliver gas to other stations and, on weekends in the winter, I would do routes where you had to deliver kerosene or fuel oil to households.

In the summers, because McClellanville was a fishing village, I also helped on the fuel dock, providing fuel for shrimp boats when they came in late in the evening. So that was my summers.

Except one summer, my grandfather—who was retired and wanted something to do—got into the crabbing business. He couldn’t do it by himself, so I did it with him. We put traps out and crabbed for a summer. It was hard work, and pretty smelly work. What you do is pull these big, wire crab pots up, dump them out, re-bait it with some nasty, smelly fish, and then put it back out. That summer we probably ran about 50 traps. We weren’t making big money, but it gave my grandfather something to do, and we had fun staying in the creek all summer.

The main thing I learned from those experiences was that I wasn’t interested in manual labor. I knew I wanted to better myself so I wouldn’t be on those docks in the heat of the summer with the mosquitos eating you alive, dragging fuel hoses down a dock to fuel up boats. 

My mother was a teacher, but also a guidance counselor, and she thought, because I was such an outdoorsy guy, that I should go into forestry. And that’s how I ended up at the University of Georgia. It wasn’t like I was in love with becoming Smokey the Bear’s guardian or something like that, but, her being a guidance counselor, I let her take the lead and she thought that was best. As it turned out, it really wasn’t something I was interested in.

My stepfather died in 1976. He had an old shrimp boat and I ended up with it. I put a captain on it and we made a little money the first year, so I bought a much bigger shrimp boat and that did OK. So I got this wild idea to build one. I went to boat builders in St. Augustine, Florida, and ordered a 73-foot shrimp trawler, which they built from scratch. 

Later, I realized, “Man, have I gotten myself in a mess! What am I going to do with these daggone things?” And then fuel prices skyrocketed, the shrimp business went to hell in a hand basket—there weren’t any—and I was just glad to get out of the business.

As a lawyer, I have no plans or desire to retire. I’m working harder now than ever before, and I’m really enjoying it. I’ve got really good people working with me, who make my life easier than maybe it should be. So, as long as my mind stays, I plan to keep on. I don’t think I want to take the crabbing route again.

These days I miss it only in the sense that, working the docks, you get to hear all the great stories. I used to get kidded all the time, when I had the shrimp boats, because it was the heyday of marijuana smuggling and a lot of it was done on shrimp boats. So they’d say to me, “You better watch out or one of these days somebody’s gonna load your boats up with marijuana and you really will be in a pickle!” At that time I was an assistant United States attorney prosecuting those smuggling cases, so there was some good ribbing. 

But everybody’s got a story to tell and, from the standpoint of my childhood and from growing up in McClellanville, the people are really down-to-earth and good people. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. That’s why I still live there.



Extra Credit

• Lofton taught world history, social studies and driver’s education at Gaffney High School for a year, prior to law school. 

• He was hired as an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of South Carolina straight out of law school, and served as an attorney in its criminal division for 12 years.

• He shares his firm’s name with his wife, Frances Cain-Lofton.

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