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Wednesday, November 15, 2023
11:30am - 1:00 pm (Eastern time)
Wednesday, November 15, 2023
Starts at 1:00 pm (Eastern time)
It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of Thomas Bessinger, Sr., fondly known as "Tee," to those who know him well. He peacefully entered into eternal rest on Thursday, November 9, 2023, surrounded by his loving family.
Thomas was born on Oct. 23, 1931, on the family farm in Orangeburg, the son of the late Genora Thomas Bessinger and the late Joseph Bessinger. He spent his early years farming and picking cotton. At the age of 7, the family relocated to Holly Hill, hoping to open a restaurant during the Great Depression. Thomas's father, Joseph "Big Joe" Bessinger, worked tirelessly to provide for the family, and Thomas himself began working early morning shifts at "Eat at Joe's" at a young age, helping serve breakfast on a rural road before the existence of I-26. Despite his early work responsibilities, Thomas attended school after his shifts.
It was at Eat at Joe's, that Thomas's love for the culinary world began. After graduating from Carlisle Military School, he served as a cook in the Army in Europe. Following his four years of military service, he pursued a business degree at Carolina University. His dedication to the family business brought him to Charleston, where he collaborated with his brother Joe to operate Piggy Park on Rutledge Avenue and Dorchester Road until 1960. Subsequently, Thomas and his brother Melvin joined forces to establish Bessinger's BBQ on Savannah Highway in West Ashley, a legacy that continues today.
Thomas married and was blessed with four children and eight grandchildren. While his passion for the business was evident, his true love was found in gardening and flowers. He never anticipated being part of a legendary family, unaware they would become known as South Carolina's first family of BBQ. The Bessinger name is synonymous with the iconic Mustard BBQ sauce that is identified with the Palmetto State.
Thomas's influence extended to his siblings, children, and nephews, who all went on to contribute to the growth of the Charleston culinary scene, from numerous BBQ joints to seafood ventures along the Charleston waterfront.
From humble beginnings, Thomas Bessinger, Sr. never lost sight of his roots. Known for his hard work, resilience, grit, and a quiet determination to get the job done, his exterior was tough, but his heart was soft for those he loved and respected.
When reflecting on Thomas, one cannot ignore the remarkable longevity of his life and career. Working in the same field from the age of 12 to 90 is something that is virtually unheard of. While the legendary BBQ sauce that bears his name may be called "Original Golden Recipe," Thomas himself was the true original and his recipe for living a full life was golden. The ingredients were an unwavering dedication to his business, his community, and his family.
Thomas sacrificed for the betterment of everyone around him and his legacy lives on in the hearts of those who knew and loved him.
Thomas is preceded in death by his parents and all of his siblings. He is survived by his wife, Carey Jacques Bessinger; children: Tommy Bessinger, Lynn Thomson, Gregory Bessinger (Lynn) and Michael Bessinger (Faith) and his grandchildren: Rian Fuller, Andrew Bessinger, Brittany Kerce, Jessica Kerce, Zachary Kerce, Taylor Grace Bessinger, Benjamin Bessinger and Oliver "Tee" Bessinger.
The family will receive friends on Wednesday, November 15, 2023, from 11:30 AM - 1:00 PM at McAlister-Smith Funeral Home West Ashley. The funeral service will follow at 1:00 PM at the funeral home.
Burial will be held at 3:00 PM on Wednesday, November 15, 2023, at Holly Hill Cemetery, Holly Hill, South Carolina.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Alzheimer's Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave., Fl 17, Chicago, IL 60601.
Expressions of sympathy may be viewed or submitted online at www.mcalister-smith.com.
Funeral arrangements have been entrusted to McAlister-Smith Funeral Home, 2501 Bees Ferry Road, Charleston, SC 29414, (843) 722-8371.