As he heads to the U.S. Senate, Tim Scott praises early mentor

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As he heads to the U.S. Senate, Tim Scott praises early mentor

The (Columbia) State
Published Saturday, December 22, 2012   |  1037 Words  |  

COLUMBIA -- Tim Scott was the friendly high school kid working at a North Charleston movie theater who would order fries and water at John Moniz's Chick-fil-A.

One day, Moniz asked why Scott didn't order more food.

Scott said he couldn't afford it.

Moniz took a bag of sandwiches to the theater one day and began mentoring Scott, who was struggling to stay in school.

Moniz's Christian-based lessons on life and business provided the high-schooler with direction that, 30 years later, Scott credits with helping lead him to the U.S. Senate.

"At the time, we don't know who we're influencing and what they might do with their lives," said Moniz's widow, Janice. "God put him in that theater."

Scott's appointment last week by Gov. Nikki Haley to Jim DeMint's vacated U.S. Senate seat capped the North Charleston Republican's rapid political ascension from Charleston County Council in 2008, to the S.C. House to the U.S. House of Representatives to the U.S. Senate. When he is sworn in on Jan. 3, Scott will become South Carolina's first African-American U.S. senator and the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction.

Scott's life was forged under the steady hand of his mother, Frances, who raised him after his parents divorced and worked long hours as a nursing assistant.

But Scott gained a purpose and drive under Moniz, a Citadel graduate and Air Force veteran who owned the fast-food restaurant across from the Northwoods mall movie theater where the teenager worked. Addressing those gathered for his historic appointment, Scott, who built a successful insurance career before entering politics, credited Moniz with teaching him "basic biblical business principles."

"My mother tilled the soil - sometimes it was difficult, hard soil - and she taught me responsibility, discipline," Scott, 47, said Wednesday. "John dropped the seeds in fertile soil and, in time, they germinated and a root system started to grow. ... He was a blessing from God."


Scott was failing many of his classes early in high school, including both English and Spanish. Scott joked at his news conference Monday that, in high school, he was not "bilingual."

Instead, he said, "They may refer to you as bi-ignorant because you can't speak in any language."

"I was being a normal 14-year-old, not always paying attention to what was happening in my life," Scott said Wednesday.

After dropping by that first bag of Chick-fil-A sandwiches, Moniz would visit Scott every other week or so.

"It was a slow process over three or four years," Scott said. "He did things in simple ways. We had little chats at the theater, and we went to Citadel basketball games. He talked to me about motivation and life values."

Moniz followed Zig Ziglar, a Christian motivational speaker known for his sayings such as, "Building a better you is the first step to building a better America."

"Johnny had a gift from God to help people," said Janice Moniz, 65, of Johns Island. "He was big into motivating and encouraging people, and he took Tim under his wing. I know John saw a lot of potential with Tim."

The differences in their backgrounds mattered little to John Moniz, who would say simply that what separated the African-American Scott and the white restaurateur was a few zeros on their paychecks.

"He never thought of race," Janice Moniz said. "He was helping a good man who cared for people."

Scott made up for his academic shortcomings by being a likeable person, Janice Moniz said. "He was so easy to talk to."

Scott also became friends with the Moniz's oldest child, Brian, six years younger than the future senator.

"They became the mayors of the mall," Janice Moniz said.

That got one of the "mayors" into trouble.

"My mom fired me at least six times because of that," said Brian Moniz, 41, of Summerville. "Every time she called for me, I was down in the mall with Tim."


John Moniz died at age 37 in 1985 of a pulmonary embolism while Scott was a sophomore in college. Scott wrote a poem to his mentor and updated his life's mission statement, changing his goal from being a positive influence to a million people to a billion people.

"I'm not sure I knew how big a number that was at the time," Scott said.

On the first anniversary of her husband's death, Scott brought Janice Moniz a rose and a sympathy card signed, "From your adopted son."

"That's the kind of person he is," she said.

John Moniz's teachings also helped Scott console Brian Moniz when he would get upset about his father's death. "I was able to share with him what I learned from his father," Scott said.

Scott was a groomsman at Brian Moniz's wedding, and Brian Moniz helped Scott with his 2010 congressional campaign. The pair - who used to toss a football inside the Northwoods movie theater lobby - still talk weekly.

"If you help people with what they want, you can get what you want," said Brian Moniz, who last year sold his Chick-fil-A restaurant outside Myrtle Beach to train to become a Charleston County Sheriff's deputy.

While driving to Columbia from Charleston with his mother to accept the Senate appointment, Scott said he caught himself stressing about what he would say at the news conference.

Then, he took a deep breath and began reflecting on his life's journey with his mother. Eventually, his thoughts turned to John Moniz. Scott realized the news conference was being held on what would have been Moniz's 65th birthday.

Janice Moniz thinks Scott is destined for the White House and will carry a piece of her late husband with him.

"Tim is taking what John did," she said, "and keeping it going."