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Fritz Hollings, a giant of South Carolina politics, dead at age 97

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 4/6/2019 Nathaniel Cary

Ernest Hollings wearing a suit and tie: Fritz Hollings served 38 years in the Senate. © Associated Press Fritz Hollings served 38 years in the Senate. GREENVILLE, S.C. – Former longtime U.S. Senator and South Carolina Governor Ernest Frederick "Fritz" Hollings has died at age 97 after a period of declining health, according to the Hollings family.

He was a giant of state politics for more than 50 years. He served as the Palmetto State's junior senator alongside Republican Strom Thurmond for most of his 38 years in the Senate. 

Known for his quick wit and oratory, Hollings worked to lure business to South Carolina and as senator pushed for assistance for those in poverty and hunger. He advocated for environmental policies and economic growth. 

Three of Hollings' children announced his death Saturday morning in a statement. 

“Our father, Fritz Hollings, was dedicated to his family, the United States Senate and the people of South Carolina," said the statement from Michael Hollings, Helen Hollings Reardon and Ernest Hollings III. "He was a hero for us and millions of Americans. He was so honored to have served the people of this great state in the South Carolina House of Representatives, as lieutenant governor and governor, and as a member of the United States Senate.

“While we are heartbroken, we hope that in the coming days and weeks as we celebrate our father’s life, all South Carolinians will be reminded of his service to our state and nation.”

Reactions: What SC and US leaders are saying about Hollings' death

Gov. Henry McMaster, who once ran against Hollings for the Senate, also released a statement that noted the death of Hollings' wife in 2012

"One of South Carolina’s greatest lions roars no more," McMaster said. "Fierce, bold, and robust – the sounds of Fritz Hollings’ vision and drive for the Palmetto State will continue to be heard by generations. 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."

Hollings served as a U.S. senator from 1966 to 2005. A moderate Democrat, he was the last Democrat to serve as a U.S. senator from South Carolina. He served as governor from 1959 to 1963. Before that, he served as lieutenant governor and as a member of the state House of Representatives.

Hollings was a native of Charleston and a graduate of The Citadel in 1942. He was immediately commissioned into the U.S. Army, where he served in World War II as an officer in the North African and European campaigns. He received the Bronze Star and seven campaign ribbons, according to a biography on his website.

He graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1947 and was elected to the S.C. House in 1948 at age 26. 

A decade later, at age 36, Hollings was elected governor of South Carolina, the youngest South Carolina governor in the 20th century. 

He is the father of the state's technical college system, which he started while governor to offer South Carolinians training in trades beyond the textile, farming and mill work many were born into.

This article originally appeared on The Greenville News: Fritz Hollings, a giant of South Carolina politics, dead at age 97

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