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Fifty years after donning academic regalia in his undergraduate commencement ceremony, Robert “Bob” Kilgo found himself dressed for the occasion once more last fall.
Kilgo — Darlington County’s deputy director of Economic Development and former owner of Kilgo Law Firm — began his academic career in the late 1960s at Emory University. Graduating in 1970 with a degree in political science, he moved on to the University of South Carolina School of Law two years later. He earned his Juris Doctor in 1975.
How did Kilgo, the 2019 SC Bar Senior Lawyers Division president, end up back in the classroom decades later? Inspiration from his friends and family piqued his interest.
“About six years ago, I was speaking with two friends of mine,” he says. “They told me they had gone back to college. They decided they needed to know more about South Carolina history. That lit a bulb in my brain.”
History has always held Kilgo’s interest, and he’s even a self-described “history nerd.” His youngest son majored in history at the Citadel, and Kilgo always enjoyed discussing the curriculum with him.
So, between hearing from friends and talking shop with his son, it was only fitting that he enrolled at Francis Marion University in fall 2017 as a second-degree student majoring in history.
Kilgo made a point to soak in the modern-day college experience that he had missed as a student in the 1960s. He took on an enriching, diverse course load that allowed him to experience a late spring semester abroad in 2019. In the same year, Kilgo was inducted to Phi Alpha Theta, the national history honor society.
Through Francis Marion, he even interned for the Gullah-Geechee National Historical Corridor Commission and the National Park Service. The internship focused on researching the enslaved population at the Charles Pinckney Historical Site near Mount Pleasant.
“From September 2019 to March 2020, I visited museums, archives, other Park Service sites and spent many hours on the computer,” he says. “I finished my work just as the pandemic arrived. Both groups have appreciated the work.”
Kilgo’s studies have impacted both his personal and professional life. An adopted child, he has used his new skills in historical research to study his own family history. His research connected him with his birth mother’s and father’s families, revealing siblings he had not previously known.
“I now have five siblings with which to share the rest of my life,” says Kilgo. “Professionally, I use these skills to explore old files in the Darlington economic development office and in grant writing.”
Returning to school might not be every lawyer’s calling, but Kilgo cannot sing its praises enough. His advice to anyone considering a second degree is simple: do your research.
“Research the local colleges and universities for the best programs,” he says. “If you want to learn a manual skill, you should look at the state technical schools. Start with an open mind and enjoy.”
This article is part of the SC Bar's “Summer Side Bar Series” highlighting some of our members and their interesting activities outside the practice of law.