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Stepp featured in Columbia Star profile

Bobby Stepp of Sowell Gray
Star Profile
By John Temple Ligon

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Bobby Stepp Bobby Stepp Attorney Bobby Stepp, former president of the South Carolina Philharmonic Board of Directors, remains on the board who managed a six–continent, nearly three–year search to find Morihiko Nakahara, the orchestra’s fifth music director.

Stepp was born in the old Columbia Hospital at the corner of Hampton and Harden. His father Tom Stepp was a home builder who moved down from Hendersonville, N.C., to work with Bagnal Builders as the director of residential construction. Stepp Drive, a few blocks south of Bradley School, was part of the family presence.

Stepp’s parents had two other sons. Melvin worked in hospital administration. Thomas has been the secretary of the USC Board of Trustees for the past several presidents.

Living on the 3400 block of Devine Street, Stepp had an easy time getting to class at Schneider Elementary and Hand Junior High Schools. By the time he was in Dreher High School, his family had moved to Hampton Hills. But that new location made convenient sense while he was working at the Gulf gas station on the corner of Garners Ferry and Old Woodlands, close to the Veterans Hospital. He stayed at the Gulf station long enough to learn basic automotive mechanics and maintenance.

Stepp played B–team and junior varsity football, but he chose the debate team over the varsity football team.

Stepp stayed with his debating skills for his first two years of USC. He declared history his major, but as he moved closer to graduation, he found he could more readily graduate if he chose English instead of history, which he did.

For the two years following college graduation, Stepp took time off, basking in the confidence provided by his 300+ draft lottery number. He waited tables, drove a cab, and picked up permanent street smarts while he chose between graduate school in the liberal arts and law school.

Law school and its well–defined career track was Stepp’s chosen direction. While a law student, Stepp was a research assistant for Judge Owens Cobb, and he clerked for the McNair Law Firm.

Once out of law school, Stepp went to work full–time with the McNair Firm. He was sent by the firm to Hilton Head to work in the McNair branch run by partner Richard Woods. Stepp stayed in the Hilton Head office for two years, gaining status as the island’s 13th lawyer.

In 1987, Stepp and a few other McNair lawyers spun off to form their own firm, what evolved into Sowell Gray Stepp Laffitte, LLC, popularly called Sowell Gray. The firm has 20 lawyers and about another 40 people on its support staff.

Stepp began conversations with his wife Meredith Manning when her family was represented by Stepp partner Elizabeth Van Doren Gray. A lawyer herself, Manning is part of the in–house general counsel’s office at South Carolina BlueCross BlueShield.

This past year Stepp and his wife have finished construction on their mountain home in Gerton, N.C., about midway between Asheville and Hendersonville. It’s a great place, Stepp relishes, to do nothing. There’s always some walking and a lot of reading, but on the whole the place is dedicated to doing nothing — perfect for weekends when the S.C. Philharmonic is not playing.

From their house on Wateree in Wales Garden, the Stepps take to the streets most mornings at 5:45 for a long walk, roughly the same distance covered along each trek at the mountain house.