Longtime US Sen. Ernest ‘Fritz’ Hollings dies

He also served a term as governor of South Carolina
Former U.S. Senator and South Carolina Governor Ernest F. "Fritz" Hollings was honored by the...
Former U.S. Senator and South Carolina Governor Ernest F. "Fritz" Hollings was honored by the Exchange Club in 2012 for his service to the community. (Source: Live 5/File)
Updated: Apr. 6, 2019 at 6:18 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC/AP) - South Carolina’s governor says one of the state’s “greatest lions roars no more” after learning former Sen. Ernest F. Hollings died.

Hollings, a moderate six-term Democrat who made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1984, died Saturday morning at 97, family spokesman Andy Brack confirmed.

“Fierce, bold, and robust – the sounds of Fritz Hollings’ vision and drive for the Palmetto State will continue to be heard by generations," Gov. Henry McMaster said in a statement Saturday morning. "The greatness and success of this state has benefited from the hand of his leadership. Peggy and I are heartened at his reunion with Peatsy and offer our prayers and condolences to the family.”

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg released a statement on Hollings’ passing:

"Fritz Hollings was truly a man in full – a history-making governor, a titan of the US Senate, and a peerless friend to all who were fortunate enough to know him. Our state and nation have lost a real giant.

It’s been my great honor to know Fritz Hollings all my life. My grandfather helped Fritz with his first Statehouse race in 1948. My father continued that work on later campaigns. And when, fifty years after his first election, Fritz asked me to help with his final Senate race in 1998, I was happy to carry on that family tradition. As I’ve said before, Fritz made so much history over so many years, it took three generations of Tecklenburgs to support just one generation of Hollings.

But there was another side to Fritz, a private side, and that’s the one I find myself thinking most about today. For Fritz wasn’t just a distinguished governor and senator -- he was also the leading man in one of the great romances of our age.

For more than forty years, Fritz and Peatsy Hollings loved each other completely and without reservation. Separately, they were smart and funny and formidable; together, they were magic. And when it became clear that Peatsy would be the first to move from this world to the next, Fritz responded with a manner and measure of tenderness that surprised even those who knew him best, and that none who witnessed it will ever forget.

Which is why, as sad as this day is, we can all take comfort in the fact that Fritz and Peatsy are back where they belong -- together, sharing a laugh, and making their own special kind of magic forever."

Sen. Lindsey Graham said Hollings led “one of the most incredible and consequential lives of any member of the Greatest Generation.” With Hollings’ passing, Graham said the state lost one of its “greatest champions and most effective political leaders.”

Graham’s statement also called Hollings a “giant of a man who was often called the ‘senator from central casting:’”

“He was the father of South Carolina’s technical school system, which is the envy of the nation. He led our state through the travails of the civil rights movement with dignity and went on to become one of the most effective senators to ever serve.

“When it came to South Carolina, Fritz could move mountains in the Senate and was a thought leader in the areas of commerce, appropriations, and defense.

“As the junior senator from South Carolina, he welcomed me to the Senate and helped me get established. And until his dying day, Fritz Hollings was always advocating and urging for policies that would make our country strong.

“When it comes to Senator Hollings, they broke the mold.”

Rep. Joe Cunningham, who represents the First Congressional District in South Carolina, called Hollings “the most transformational leader our state has ever seen.”

“From his service as a soldier in World War II, a state legislator, Lieutenant Governor, Governor, and U.S. Senator, Fritz Hollings was a true statesman who exemplified character, courage, integrity, and honor," Cunningham said. "We are all better off because of his life and service to our nation, state and the Lowcountry. Amanda and I send our sincerest condolences to the Hollings family and all who knew him. It is a blessing to know he and his beloved Peatsy are finally together again, forever.”

South Carolina Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, who called Hollings a dear friend, said his passion for helping others and commitment to South Carolina will be “the foundation of his legacy.”

“Sen. Hollings was a force to be reckoned with in Washington, stuck true to his convictions no matter the consequences, and never stopped fighting to make the world a better place," Setzler said. "From his fiery presence on the floor of the US Senate, to his days spent talking with fellow South Carolinians on the beaches of the Lowcountry, there was never any doubt that Senator Hollings loved what he did. South Carolina has lost a true statesman, and I hope you will all join me in praying for the Hollings family during this time. Thank you for your life of service, Senator. You are missed.”

Sen. Tim Scott said he joins the people of South Carolina “in praying for the Hollings Family.”

From his time as a solider in World War Two, to shepherding peaceful desegregation as Governor, or fighting for the American worker in the U.S. Senate, Fritz Hollings was a statesman who never lost his love for the Lowcountry, for South Carolina, and for his wife—Peatsy. I join the people of South Carolina in praying for the Hollings Family as we celebrate his lifetime of public service.

U.S. House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn issued a statement on the passing of his friend and former colleague.

America has lost a one of a kind statesman. Fritz Hollings was an astute politician who was motivated by service. He was truly devoted to advancing the cause of our democracy and bettering the lives all Americans.

I have been reflecting on the legacy of my friend Fritz Hollings in recent days as I studied the work he did on hunger and poverty. This year marks the 50th anniversary of his Hunger Tour, in which I was proud to play a small part. In January 1969, Sister Mary Anthony and I accompanied Fritz on a tour of an impoverished area of Charleston so he could see the plight of families who had been ignored by the government for too long. The conditions Fritz saw in Charleston and around the state impacted him so deeply that he challenged this country to change the distribution of food stamps and initiate the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program. His actions provided hope and healing in communities in desperate need.

He was a man with courage and conviction, who began his career protecting the status quo but changed as he learned and grew. In requesting the removal of his name from the federal courthouse in Charleston so it could bear the name of Judge Waites Waring, Fritz demonstrated that his service was not about himself but about creating an America that strives to be a more perfect union.

Known for disarming his fiercest critics with his sharp wit and strong intellect, he was an effective leader who sought allies of either party who were willing to help to advance his agenda. His brand of legislating is truly missed in the halls of the Capitol today.

Emily and I send our deepest condolences to the Hollings family, but we are strengthened by knowing that Fritz and his beloved wife, Peatsy, are now reunited. It was a blessed experience to call him a friend and colleague.

Hollings served in Congress from 1966 to 2005 and prior to serving as a U.S. senator, Hollings also served as South Carolina’s lieutenant governor from 1955 to 1959, and as governor from 1959 to 1963.

Among Hollings’ noteworthy accomplishments included integrating South Carolina schools, when other states were fighting against it. He also established the state’s technical college system and educational television.

Sen. Fritz Hollings (Source: U.S. Congress)
Sen. Fritz Hollings (Source: U.S. Congress)

Colleagues paid tribute to Hollings, then 95, at the unveiling of a statue of the retired senator on April 17, 2017, in the garden of the J. Waties Waring Judicial Center.

Among those speaking about Hollings' impact was former Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime friend.

“South Carolina and this incredible city, will be written on his heart [when he dies], and everybody, everybody will know it,” Biden said.

“He often pursued issues ahead of their time,” said Mary Jo Sotille Manning, with the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee. “Sometimes at odds with people who had a more conventional frame of mind. He never took a public opinion poll, and at times he paid a heavy price.”

“People may not have agreed with you, but they believed that you believed it, and that will take you a long way in this state,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said.

Rep. James Clyburn said no one will ever be able to understand what Hollings truly means to this state.

“But I know this: it’s immeasurable and I thank you for it,” he said.

Born in Charleston on Jan. 1, 1922, Hollings attended public school in Charleston and graduated from The Citadel in 1942. He then graduated from the University of South Carolina Law School in 1947, according to the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress.

Hollings served in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1945.

His political career began in 1948 when he was elected to the South Carolina General Assembly at age 26.

He ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for president in 1984.

He retired from Congress on Jan. 3, 2005, at age 83. After 38 years, he told Mike Wallace of CBS's "60 Minutes" that he was "sick or raising money to get re-elected," so he was going home to Charleston.

He complained that being a Congressman meant raising about $30,000 per week to get re-elected.

"Now, we don't work here on Fridays," he told Wallace. "We're back home doing fundraisers. You gotta collect money."

For four decades, he was married to Rita Liddy "Peatsy" Hollings, from 1971 until her death in 2012.

Hollings told Wallace a friend said Fritz and Peatsey's success at marriage was easily explained: "He said, 'They're both in love with the same fella.'"

The judicial center where Hollings’ statue stands was initially named in his honor, but in April 2015, Hollings made the unusual request to rename the building in honor of Judge J. Waties Waring, who played an important role int he early developments in the American civil rights movement.

Clyburn said he asked Congressional researchers to determine how many times in the past such a request had been made and said he was told days later by staffers that it was the first time such a request had been made.

His more than 38 years of service in the Senate, from 1966 to January 2005, made him the eighth longest-serving senator in U.S. history.

Copyright 2019 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.