In a lifetime of business deals, Scott Rumph of Sumter, South Carolina, was the ultimate numbers guy.
"I'd say my first calculating really started at The Citadel, when I was down there with a slide ruler," he told me.
"They also had a hand-operated calculator. Turn the crank and get a number. Crank it maybe 10 minutes, 15 minutes - just to get a division. So when I graduated, that's when I got interested in advanced calculating. (Years later) when I read an article about a new calculator called the Sinclair Calculator, I couldn't imagine what it was. I thought I had gone to heaven."
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Turns out Scott Rumph always knew the numbers better than everyone else. Better than the bankers, the accountants, the lawyers and his own business partners and associates. He also worked harder than everyone else.
Along the way there were the trucks, the airplanes, the boats, the liquids, the incinerators, the calculations, the logistics, the salesmanship, the entrepreneurial spirit, the inventions, the love of Sumter's history and progress, the genuine interest in others, the family and a vast array of colorful characters and loyal friends. He had a fearless and youthful approach to life until the end, and he always recognized and fully appreciated his own remarkable journey.
He also loved to share his stories.
This report is based on conversations I had with him over the course of late 2016 and early 2017.
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Scott Winfield Rumph Jr. was born in Sumter in 1928 to Scott Winfield Rumph Sr. of Sumter and Olive Williams Rumph of Millidgeville, Georgia. His father was born on Yonges Island and ran away from his caretaker aunt at age 10.
"He got hauled back and ran away again at 14," Rumph said. "He arrived in Sumter barefooted."
Scott Sr. made his way in turn-of-the-century Sumter and took over the local Western Union store on South Main Street at age 21.
"I'm not sure exactly what year," he said, "you'll have to get Sammy Way to figure that out."
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Scott Sr. started the Sumter Petroleum business on Harvin Street in 1934 with a T-Model Ford Truck.
"He carried 400 gallons of gas that they would deliver to local stores all over," Rumph said.
He grew up driving those trucks, pumping gas and oil and developing relationships. With his innate mechanical abilities and curiosity, he could fix anything.
He graduated from Edmunds High School in 1945 after going through 11 grades and arrived at The Citadel in 1945 at age 16 along with fellow Sumterites W.A. McElveen, Ernest Stroman, Ray Segars and Jimmy Westbury. All would go on to shape Sumter's progress for decades.
After an adventurous and successful academic career at The Citadel, which included hitchhiking from Charleston to Sumter and back on numerous occasions with "Ashby," as he referred to Mayor Bubba, he "came back with a degree in Civil Engineering and built some houses on Maplewood, Frank Clarke, Westhaven and Wactor Street," he said.
That's when life ramped up.
He married the woman he loved, Dorothy "Dot" Broadwell, on April 29, 1950.
"I met her at 310 West Hampton Ave. when I was 13. Riding a bicycle and selling Script Ink from Galloway and Moseley. It was a Dayton Bicycle."
His father died in 1951, which was the same year he began a 21-month Air Force military career that took him through Memphis, San Antonio, Hawaii and Korea.
He was responsible for "POL Ground Support" - Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants - primarily servicing the F-84, a single-engine fighter plane. He was a 2nd lieutenant, and "out of 150 people I was the only one who had ever seen a gas pump," he said.
By 1953 he was out of the service and back to business in Sumter. Along the way came four children.
Scott III was born in 1951; next came Emily in 1954, Edwin in 1957 and Robert in 1963.
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In 1946 he soloed with Sumter's Phil Booth at age 18, and went on to log more than 7,000 hours owning and piloting a wide range of airplanes.
"I paid $1.25 for 15 minutes of flying lessons, and I was hooked," he said. "I had two Mooneys, six Beechcrafts with the twin engines, a King Air F90 for nine years and a Premier 1A for three years. I miss the jet," he said.
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Rumph started, developed, bought and sold so many different businesses in his lifetime that even he had a hard time remembering them all.
A typical conversation turned into more of a list of names, and we'd often get off on tangents about what a certain business did, why it came about at the time and what became of it.
Here's the basic list he usually reeled off:
Sumter Petroleum, Sumter Transport, Southeastern Chemical and Solvent, DriRex (dry cleaning supply), Palmetto Gas, Fort Sumter Petroleum, Rest Stop (never materialized, and that's another story altogether), Gasoline Supermarket, North-South Petroleum, Market Express, STC Refinery Services, Kiln Direct, GRR (Giant Resource Recovery) and many others along the way.
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Anecdotes & Observations
- When asked to define the attributes of how he judged a successful business opportunity, he was quick to write down four key points on a piece of scrap paper, which I have in my office:
1) Repeat customers; 2) High Margin; 3) Unlimited Territory; 4) Element of Monopoly
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- Back to his love of calculators, particularly the Sinclair Calculator (circa 1972) referenced at the beginning of this report: "Normally before you'd go into First Federal, it'd take you a month to figure out how much your payments were and all that. I could figure all that out and do a mortgage in a minute and a half. It was a simple calculator. It just blew my mind. I think I had the first one in South Carolina. My friend Laverne Griffin sent it to me."
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In case you missed it, LaVerne Griffin wrote a letter to the editor to The Sumter Item this week that I'll include here because it's worth re-reading:
I am very sorry to learn of Scott Rumph's death. He was one of my oldest friends, a man who had the respect of all who knew him, and a wonderful role model for our younger generation.
I always admired his ability to "think outside the box" and develop new and better ways to get the job done. Generous to a fault, always considerate of others, a charitable contributor to multiple causes, he will always be remembered for these positive traits.
He has inspired me to pursue such a lifestyle, and I shall miss him greatly. I am proud that I had something to do with inspiring him to learn to fly some 60 years ago.
Colonel, USAF, retired
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Laverne Griffin is one of the most important American aviators in history. Google him yourself. He spent a lot of time in Sumter, South Carolina, living in a room at Scott's mother's house and running Shaw Air Force Base. And that was before he was spying on the Russians.
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Scott Rumph inspired all of us who were fortunate enough to know him in various ways. Among the most important is a person who knew him and his family for more than 40 years, and lived with Mr. Rumph the last two years of his life. Her name is Martha Ann Prince of Dabbs Crossroads, South Carolina.
Here's what she told me:
"I lived with Mr. Rumph for over two years. He was a perfectionist, even down to how he liked his eggs cooked and how he liked his sheets pressed and turned on his bed a certain way. So he asked a lot, but he gave a lot. For example, he invited me down to his boat. I got up in the morning to make the beds. He said, 'No Martha Ann, you are a guest here!' He never saw himself above others. He was the most decent man I ever worked for."
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If you have stories or memories about Mr. Rumph, please share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.