CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Former Vice President Joe Biden, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and Congressman Jim Clyburn eulogized former U.S. Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings at The Citadel Tuesday morning.
A crowd packed inside Summerall Chapel on The Citadel campus where Hollings graduated from with a degree in business administration in 1942.
Biden said he and Hollings sat side by side with one another for 32 years in the Senate.
“I learned not only what made Fritz tick, not just what he cared about, but I got a glimpse inside the man’s soul, I think; into his intellect, his love of his family, his love of his state,” Biden said. “Every senator represents his or her state but few embody what the state is, and I think Fritz embodied South Carolina.”
Biden referred to the state’s motto, “While I breathe, I hope.”
“I got to speak to Fritz just shortly before he died. He still hoped, wanted to know what the colleagues were doing up in Washington,” Biden said. “The fact of the matter is that it was Fritz, he was South Carolina. With every breath, he brought hope to so many in this state and around the country. What set him apart was not only his big ideas, but he knew how to get things done.”
Gov. Henry McMaster said as he grew up in Columbia, he couldn’t remember a time when did not know the name Fritz Hollings.
“But as time moved on, I came to realize that the man was every bit equal to the legend,” McMaster said. “We sometimes wonder what it is that drives people to such heights of service and accomplishment. We wonder, is it love of something? Is it a determination to right a wrong? Is it simple ambition? Pride? A cause? I don’t know. But I believe that somewhere in our core lies a force that challenges and dares us to live our lives to the fullest of our talents, strengths and dreams. But the risk is large and many of us fall far short. Fritz Hollings succeeded magnificently, and in doing so, gave substance and inspiration to all of us.”
McMaster recalled making the decision to challenge Hollings in an election in 1986.
“In an unbroken string of seven victims in his Senate races, I was the fifth,” McMaster said. “We knew it would be an uphill battle, and we were not disappointed. Early on, we were rising in the polls and then Fritz began to pay attention and went to work.”
He said one of the most memorable moments came when McMaster’s team persuaded him to challenge Hollings to take a drug test.
“He instantly responded that he would take a drug test if I would take an IQ test,” McMaster said, chuckling as the crowd laughed. “You can imagine my satisfaction in seeing that line quoted in virtually every book written about political quotes and jokes since 1986.”
McMaster said while he lost that election, he received the reward of sharing a stage with and received the attention of “one of the greatest men South Carolina will ever produce.”
Hollings has been honored at the school numerous times including speaking engagements at Corps Day in 1959 and a PT Barracks dedicated to him in 2004. He also gave the commencement speech at the school in 1983.
Congressman Jim Clyburn said Hollings was a one-of-a-kind statesman. He quoted the poem, "Per Aspera" by Florence Earle Coates, which begins with the line, "Thank God, a man can grow!"
“What is implicit in that poem’s refrain is that all men do not grow. But all men can. Fritz Hollings demonstrated that time and time again,” Clyburn said.
He also remembered a phone call from Hollings in which Hollings insisted Clyburn sponsor legislation to remove Hollings’ name from the judicial center in downtown Charleston courthouse and replace it with a different name.
"I called him back later, and for 45 minutes, he lectured me on South Carolina's history as if I didn't know any of it," Clyburn said. "But when I told him the danger of my doing that, he said in the old Charleston brogue, 'You just do it. I've got your back.'"
The legislation passed the House and Senate. That facility, at Meeting Street between Broad Street and Tradd Street, would become the J. Waties Waring Judicial Center.
Clyburn became emotional recalling Hollings speaking when the name change happened.
“I was driven to near tears that day, because I thought I knew South Carolina well, and I thought I knew Fritz Hollings well,” he said. “But I found out that day that I did not know him as well as I thought I did. There was much more to him than I had ever experienced. And I can only say today, ‘Thank God, a man can grow.’ Fritz grew, and I grew along with him.”
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.
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.