Ernest F. “Fritz” Hollings, the silver-haired Democrat who helped shepherd South Carolina through desegregation as governor and went on to serve six terms in the U.S. Senate, has died. He was 97.
Family spokesman Andy Brack, who also served at times for Hollings as spokesman during his Senate career, said Hollings died early Saturday.
Hollings, whose long and colorful political career included an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, retired from the Senate in 2005, one of the last of the larger-than-life Democrats who once dominated politics in the South.
He had served 38 years and two months, making him the eighth longest-serving senator in U.S. history.
Nevertheless, Hollings remained the junior senator from South Carolina for most of his term. The senior senator was Strom Thurmond, first elected in 1954. He retired in January 2003 at age 100 as the longest-serving senator in history.
In his final Senate speech in 2004, Hollings lamented that lawmakers came to spend much of their time raising money for the next election, calling money “the main culprit, the cancer on the body politic.”
“We don’t have time for each other, we don’t have time for constituents except for the givers. … We’re in real, real trouble.”
Hollings was a sharp-tongued orator whose rhetorical flourishes in the deep accent of his home state enlivened many a Washington debate, but his influence in Washington never reached the levels he hoped.
He sometimes blamed that failure on his background, rising to power as he did in the South in the 1950s as the region bubbled with anger over segregation.
However, South Carolina largely avoided the racial violence that afflicted some other Deep South states during the turbulent 1960s.
Hollings campaigned against desegregation when running for governor in 1958. He built a national reputation as a moderate when, in his farewell address as governor, he pleaded with the legislature to peacefully accept integration of public schools and the admission of the first black student to Clemson University.