John Gettys Jr. can’t remember a time when he did not want to be a lawyer. His father was an attorney, and later was elected as a probate judge who retired from the bench in 2010.
Just like his father, Gettys has committed to a life of service in law and politics. He’s a founding partner with Morton & Gettys in Rock Hill, where he has lived since he was 13 years old. He’s also serving his first term as Rock Hill’s mayor.
“I have always wanted to serve my community and give back, and that’s also why I became a lawyer,” Gettys said.
On Aug. 20, Gettys was honored as Lawyers Weekly’s Lawyer of the Year during its 2021 Leaders in the Law ceremony in Charleston, in recognition of his commitment to serving the legal profession and the community.
“Serving as mayor has been a really fun ride for the last four years,” Gettys said. “But it has also been very challenging in the midst of a pandemic and all the associated issues that no one could have seen coming.”
Gettys received a degree in history from Erskine College and both a J.D. and a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of South Carolina. He counts Erskine College president, James Stroebel, as his most important mentor. Stroebel stressed how important personal and professional relationships are to a successful career and life.
“I have modeled my career according to his advice,” Gettys said.
In 1996, Gettys joined the Rock Hill law firm of Harrelson, Hayes & Guyton, becoming a partner in 2000. He left in 2001 to launch Morton & Gettys with his law partner James M. Morton and recalls their humble beginnings.
“When we started our practice, it was just the two of us with one paralegal and one part time receptionist,” he said.
This year they are celebrating their 20th anniversary alongside a team of 16 attorneys and a support staff of 15.
Gettys focuses his practice on residential real estate, probate and estate planning matters, and guardianship and conservatorship. He’s a recipient of the City of Rock Hill Martin Luther King Committee Dream Keeper Award, and a 2017 Come See Me Community Service Merit Award Winner.
He made his leap into politics in 2002 when he was elected to represent Ward 4 on Rock Hill City Council. He served two terms before leaving to dedicate more time to his family and his law firm. But he always thought he’d like to be mayor when the time was right. That time came in 2017 when his predecessor retired.
“The mayor I served with on the city council was in office for 20 years,” Gettys said. “He was a great mayor and a mentor to me, and when he decided not to run for another term, I felt like it was time to give it a shot.”
Rock Hill—South Carolina’s fifth largest city with a population of 75,000—is just a stone’s throw from Charlotte and has long sat in the shadow of the Queen City, but the once-crumbling textile town is now on the rise.
“We have done a good job of recovering from the collapse of the textile industry, creating business parks and creating an identity for ourselves,” Gettys said.
Sports is one sector that is contributing to Rock Hill’s resurgence. Recently, the city welcomed the Carolina Panthers Headquarters and Training Facility and will host the BMX Supercross World Championships in 2024.
In addition to sports venues, the city recently opened a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in an empty department store and delivered 50,000 shots to local and area residents. The city has also committed $225 million for infrastructure to improve the quality of life for residents in a depressed section of the city.
Gettys and his wife, Christi, have been married for 23 years. They have three sons, and Gettys’ parents, mother-in-law, and siblings all still live in the Rock Hill area and remain close. Gettys admits he’s not always successful at balancing work, politics, and home life but a new associate at the firm is taking on additional responsibilities, and that helps.
“It’s a lot of juggling, a lot of relying on people to help keep things going,” he said. “I work with a lot of great people, both at my law firm and at the major’s office, and that helps a lot.”
When Gettys isn’t working or campaigning, he often can be found playing golf with his sons, spending time with his wife, and enjoying family activities, like going to the beach. He’s also an elder at First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Rock Hill and has served on many community and professional boards and commissions, including the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission, Boy Scouts of America, Rock Hill Sports Commission and Pennies for Progress Commission.
“We live in a great state, and it’s because we have great people that really do get involved in their communities to try to make things happen so we all can have a better life,” Gettys said.