COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — 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 at his home on the Isle of Palms 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 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, made 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.
"This General Assembly must make clear South Carolina's choice, a government of laws rather than a government of men," he told lawmakers. Shortly afterward, Clemson was peacefully integrated.
In his 2008 autobiography, "Making Government Work," Hollings wrote that in the 1950s "no issue dominated South Carolina more than race" and that he worked for a balanced approach.
"I was 'Mister-In-Between. The governor had to appear to be in charge; yet the realities were not on his side," he wrote. "I returned to my basic precept ... the safety of the people is the supreme law. I was determined to keep the peace and avoid bloodshed."
In the Senate, Hollings gained a reputation as a skilled insider with keen intellectual powers. He chaired the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and held seats on the Appropriations and Budget committees.
But his sharp tongue and sharper wit sometimes got him in trouble. He once called Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, the "senator from the B'nai B'rith" and in 1983 referred to the presidential campaign supporters of former Sen. Alan Cranston, D-California, as "wetbacks."