J. T. Pace could not read or write until he was 65 years old. This painstaking reality caused Pace to seek a way out of his functional illiteracy. He was a retired construction worker and lay minister. He had memorized biblical passages by listening to audio tapes. If he could memorize, he realized, then he could learn to read and write.
During World War II, Mr. Pace was drafted into the army and stationed in France. He received letters from his mother and girlfriend who later became his wife. He was frustrated and embarrassed that he could not read his mail. When he was married and had children, his wife had to sign his checks and he could not help his children with their homework. He moved to Niagara, New York, after his service with the army. There he worked hard as a truck driver and construction worker and provided the financial necessities for his wife and children. Niagara was home for 45 years.
In 1980 the Paces moved to Mauldin, South Carolina. Mr. Pace was awed by the positive changes which had taken place in his native state. In a short time, he became involved with the Greenville Literacy Association. He was determined to learn to read and write; thereafter, a whole new world opened up to him. Mr. Pace not only became, literate but also he started to assist others who suffered similar fates. He became one of the nation’s greatest literacy advocates. He volunteered to work in prisons. Many, he surmised, were inmates because circumstances denied their acquisition of productive literacy skills. He utilized his knowledge to enhance the upward mobility of others.
J. T. Pace has been awarded for his efforts to combat illiteracy. Among his honors are: The South Carolina Governor’s Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service, the Direct Service Volunteer Award for Greenville County and the Jefferson Award for Greenville County. On June 21, 1990, he was one of the recipients of the National Jefferson Awards given by the US Supreme Court. He has been featured on national television with First Lady Barbara Bush, on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and on public service announcements.
This great South Carolinian has admonished young people to never say, “I can’t” and to realize that reading is, indeed, fundamental. In 1991, Bob Jones University awarded him an honorary degree.