Eugene N. “Nick” Zeigler was born July 20, 1921, in Florence, SC, to parents Eugene N. Zeigler and Helen L. Townsend Zeigler. After graduating from Florence High School in 1938, he attended the University of the South in Sewanee, TN, from which he received his B.A. degree in 1942.
Zeigler served as an officer on four aircraft carriers during the Second World War. In 1949, he received his J.D. degree from Harvard Law School and then returned to Florence, where he practiced law continuously until 2007. He was widely regarded for his skill and eloquence as a litigator and advocate, as well as his willingness to do what he considered his duty to represent those on the less popular side of the social and economic dynamic of his time. In the 1950s, Zeigler was intensely involved in civic life in Florence and the Pee Dee. He became president of the Florence Museum in 1951 and founded the Pee Dee Big Brothers in 1953 and the Florence Fine Arts Council in 1954.
He was a member of the S.C. Bar, the Florence County Bar Association and the American Trial Lawyers Association.
Zeigler was elected to the S.C. House of Representatives in 1960 and the S.C. Senate in 1966. During his time in the General Assembly, he served on the West Commission, which formulated the Home Rule Amendments to the S.C. Constitution, and chaired legislative committees that reformed the juvenile justice and corrections system. A proponent of civil rights and desegregation of public schools, Zeigler authored legislation that desegregated the Florence Public Library and ended racially exclusionary school board election practices in Florence School District One. He sponsored legislation to create Francis Marion College in 1970. Zeigler was the Democratic Party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate in 1972, but lost in the election to incumbent Strom Thurmond. He also ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1974.
Zeigler was a lifelong member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Florence, where he was a member of the choir, lay reader and long serving teacher of the adult Sunday School class. He served on its vestry on several occasions and was the chancellor of the Episcopal Diocese of S.C. for more than 20 years.
A prolific writer and skilled storyteller, Zeigler authored six books. Zeigler’s final book, In Disgrace With Fortune and Mens’ Eyes, profiles 47 forgotten, ignored or unpopular South Carolinians and was published several weeks before his death.
Zeigler received numerous awards, including the S.C. Arts Commission’s Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award, Order of the Palmetto, Governor’s Award in Humanities, Jack Baker Award from the Florence Arts Council and the S.C. Bar Foundation DuRant Award for Distinguished Public Service. He received honorary degrees from both Sewanee and Francis Marion University.
Eugene N. “Nick” Zeigler Jr. died on October 8, 2012. He is survived by his wife, Anne L. Zeigler; his children, Belton T. Zeigler, Helen T.Z. Ellerbe, Nina M.Z. Knowlton and Benjamin T. Zeigler; and 11 grandchildren, Anne, Robert and Mildred Knowlton; Belton, Sanford, Elizabeth and Eugene Zeigler; Nina Turton; and William, Caroline and Frances Ellerbe.