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Hollings Funeral

The casket carrying former U.S. Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings is carried up the steps of the South Carolina Statehouse Monday, April 15, 2019, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

The late U.S. Sen. Ernest F. "Fritz" Hollings is being remembered as someone whose life of public service evolved over the years and was marked by a compassionate desire to improve the lives of his constituents. 

Mourners and friends pay homage to Fritz Hollings

"I think the one thing that people will say about Hollings is that he was compassionate and he had a great heart," said Sen. John W. Matthews, D-Bowman.

"He had a feel for people. He understood the needs of everybody. So I think that's what his legacy will be. He served the people based on their needs," he said.

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Hollings, who graduated from The Citadel in 1942, was elected to the state House in 1948. He was elected as lieutenant governor in 1954 and governor in 1958. He then went on to serve six terms in the U.S. Senate.

He died on April 6 at the age of 97.

Matthews said Hollings’ real test came when South Carolina’s schools were integrated in the early 60s.

"He didn't become a browbeater or rabble-rouser, or try to exploit the situation. He took leadership, took hard positions, kept the state calm and the process went smoothly," Matthews said.

Hollings visited Orangeburg in 1997, taking a first-hand look at the outdoor privies off Edisto Drive. Three years later, he came back to Orangeburg bearing a $4.7 million USDA Rural Development check to fund long-awaited sewer improvements.

"Hollings was instrumental in a lot of grants and getting money for Orangeburg County. We've got that new administration building (on Amelia Street). Hollings was one of the key persons to help us with that. Our sewer system in Bowman -- when they first put it together, he was instrumental in that. So he did a number of things that improved the quality of life for people that they might not know and they will never know," Matthews said.

He added, "When you're in public office and doing things for people, I always tell people there will be names you'll never know and faces you'll never see, but they'll benefit from the project. He had passion for the needs of people regardless of their status in life."

Calvin Wright, executive director of the Orangeburg-Calhoun-Allendale-Bamberg Community Action Agency Inc., extended his condolences to the Hollings family.

He said Hollings was a champion in the fight against poverty.

"He stood up for those who were the least among us, even when it was not popular. ... He visited our agency on more than one occasion, really trying to understand poverty and all the things that contributed to it," Wright said.

Wright added, "He and his wife 'Peatsy' worked hand in hand to try to cure some of the ills that afflict those of limited income and limited resources. He will be sorely missed, and we stand in need of many more Fritz Hollings during these distressing times."

Hollings campaigned against desegregation when he ran for governor in 1958, but Congressman Jim Clyburn said he grew into much more than that.

"Thank God a man can grow," Clyburn said.

U.S. District Judge J. Waties Waring opened up the Democratic Party to black people in the case of Elmore vs. Rice in 1948, the same year Hollings was running for a S.C. House seat.

"In the same year he got elected, the court ruled that black folks could vote in the Democratic primary. Who knows? Maybe that started the growth before him," Clyburn said of Hollings.

"In 1954, he got elected lieutenant governor. That is also the year that the United States Supreme Court issues its decision in Brown vs. Board of Education," Clyburn said. In that case, justices unanimously ruled that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional.

"Then he 1958, he gets elected governor. This was at the time that all kinds of activities were beginning to take place on the campus of South Carolina State. I was a sophomore in November of 1958. So there he is sitting in the governor's office at the time we started the sit-ins on State's campus in February of 1960 in his second year as governor," Clyburn said.

Clyburn was among the student leaders who, in concert with others in North Carolina, led sit-ins that resulted in their arrests and the eventual integration of higher education across the South.

"One of my teachers my sophomore year at South Carolina State told me, 'No person can ever be any more nor any less than what their experiences allow them to be.' I think that these experiences allowed Fritz Hollings to evolve," Clyburn said.

Hollings went on to encourage the legislature to peacefully accept the integration of public schools and the admission of Harvey Gantt, the first black student, to Clemson University during Hollings' last year as governor in 1962.

"He gave his speech ... that we've run out of courts and we are going to be a state governed by laws. So it's a pretty good evolution to me," Clyburn said.

He led Hollings on a tour of Charleston's east side in January of 1969 as part of several tours Hollings took as he helped lay the groundwork for the Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, feeding program.

"And as result he wrote the book 'The Case Against Hunger,’ which led him to becoming the go-to guy for expanding community health centers in South Carolina and throughout the South. So that's the evolution of Fritz Hollings," Clyburn said.

Clyburn said Hollings asked that he champion legislation renaming the Hollings Judicial Center in Charleston after Waring. That cemented Hollings’ unique place in history.

"I asked the Congressional Research Service to check for me and find out whether or not anybody had ever made such a request. They told me no, that that was the first time that anything like that had ever happened.

"So that's why I refer to him as a one-of-a-kind statesman. If for no other reason, that one gesture cements him in South Carolina and American history as a one-of-kind statesman," Clyburn said.

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Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow "Good News with Gleaton" on Twitter at @DionneTandD. The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Staff Writer

Dionne Gleaton has been a staff writer with The T&D for 20 years. She has been an education reporter, regional reporter and currently writes features with an emphasis on health.

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