Initially, Sandra Lucas-Hyde wasn’t fretting when told that her fiance, Joe DeFeo, fell outside of a gym on Thursday and went to the hospital.
There she had difficulty seeing Joe and learning of his condition. It wasn’t until she was taken to a private consulting room that doctors delivered the devastating news.
Joe DeFeo died of a heart attack at 65 years old.
It couldn’t be correct. They must have the wrong person.
“It’s just like somebody knocking you out,” Lucas-Hyde said of the realization. “I love him so much, he is one of the best men who ever walked in this life.
“I will miss him every moment and every second. I will be talking about him and loving him every minute.”
Lucas-Hyde cried and her voice cracked Friday afternoon as she recounted the hospital experience and how much she already misses DeFeo, whom she called her husband but they had not officially wed. She grew a bit stronger though talking about his different roles in the community.
'We need that personality'
DeFeo served 12 years on the Horry County Schools Board of Education and was in his second term as chair.
“He gave that 100 percent,” Lucas-Hyde said.
When he got up in the morning, DeFeo would be in his office talking to other board members or administrators, Lucas-Hyde said. It didn’t end there, she said she would frequently have to drive to dinner as DeFeo spoke on the phone with educators or a concerned parent during the trip.
DeFeo worked to ensure local students had the best facilities and best opportunities, Lucas-Hyde said.
“I feel like a ship without a captain,” said Holly Heniford, District 1 representative on the HCS school board.
Heniford recalled how they might not always agree, but she could tell DeFeo respected her opinion. They would talk and Heniford said she could slowly hear him changing his mind on a topic.
While DeFeo’s brash attitude might have ruffled some, Heniford said it is what the district needed and DeFeo kept HCS progressing.
“We need that personality to move the machine forward,” she said.
DeFeo’s impact on the district will be felt for years as five new schools were constructed, Heniford said.
Following DeFeo’s death, the district announced it canceled its Monday school board meeting. The board will next meet May 14.
Vice Chair Neil James will assume DeFeo’s duties until a new election is held, according to HCS spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said.
Horry County Voters Registration and Elections Director Sandy Martin said filings for DeFeo’s seat will start May 18 and run through May 26. If there is more than one person for a party running for the seat, there will be a July primary.
The general election for the seat will be in November, and it will be for a full, four-year term, Martin said.
'Good, great guy'
It wasn’t just in schools where DeFeo spent his time. The Philadelphia native taught dance, trained people on carrying a concealed weapon and sang karaoke.
Dewon Huggins described DeFeo as a “good, great guy” — not a good Ole boy.
“I remember the first time we formally met in person, the smile and candor of the man was enough to let me know that it was of honor and great dignity to finally meet him,” Huggins wrote in a message.
The two exchanged heated debates on Facebook over how to deal with Hurricane Irma and, from that, DeFeo became a mentor, Huggins wrote.
DeFeo taught Huggins conservative values and to preserve the American dream, Huggins stated. He added that DeFeo was a friend to many.
“I’m at peace knowing that myself, Angie Jones and Thomas Herron [will have] a karaoke sing-off with Joe when we meet again,” Huggins wrote.
Lucas-Hyde said she is going to miss the unconditional love DeFeo showed. He was always trying to remove obstacles and make her life easier. Even if it was as simple as providing help using a laptop.
Though it would always include a bit of teasing, Lucas-Hyde said.
‘’He just made my life full of love.”