It was one of those rare Charleston days with no humidity, only blue skies and a slight breeze. Rare indeed, like the Charleston native being remembered as a, “one of a kind statesman”.
The funeral of former South Carolina governor and six term U.S. Senator Ernest “Fritz” Hollings brought him back, near the neighborhood where he grew up and the school he held so dear, his Alma mater, The Citadel.
“He talked about The Citadel like it was in a literal sense, his citadel,” said former Vice President Joe Biden. It meant, “Everything to him.”
Biden was one of several well-known politicians in attendance; including South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn, former Democratic U.S. Senators Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and John Kerry of Massachusetts, as well as Democratic South Carolina Governors Dick Riley and Jim Hodges.
Biden recalled meeting Hollings for the first time when he was just 29 years-old. He wanted to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate, but feared he would not be taken seriously. He met with Hollings who was then the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
“He ended up taking a chance on me,” said Biden. “He saw something in me I wasn’t sure existed, but he believed in me. That made me believe more in myself.”
The two became personal friends, sitting side by side in the U.S. Senate for 32 years. Biden said Hollings was a man of great ideas who knew how to get things done; even joking he knew how to get along with Strom Thurmond when he needed to. A chapel full of people on the verge of tears broke out in laughter.
Congressman Jim Clyburn spoke about his relationship with Hollings as well. The two first met when Hollings was the governor of South Carolina and Clyburn was a student at South Carolina State University holding sit-ins for civil rights.
“He opened up to us, and we opened up to him,” Clyburn said. “I knew that we had just heard and felt what was in him.”
Clyburn said he always admired the long time senator for his ability to see all sides, and even change his mind. He said he’s often been compared to Hollings, who was known not only for his quick wit but sarcastic, sharp tongue.
“You would always hope that when the comparison was being made, it would be on the wit and wisdom side," joked Clyburn.
Clyburn frequently got phone calls from Hollings, with unsolicited advice; he respected and took none the less. He remembered Hollings calling asking him to sponsor legislation to remove Hollings' name from the federal courthouse in Charleston. Hollings wanted the building named instead for U.S. District Judge Waties Waring, whose dissent in a case paved the way for the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling that decided public school segregation was unconstitutional.
“I was moved to tears because I know South Carolina well, and I thought I knew Fritz Hollings well,” said Clyburn. “There was much more to him. Thank God a man can grow. Fritz grew, and I grew with him.”
Current South Carolina governor Henry McMaster got laughs when he spoke about challenging Hollings and losing to him in 1986. He said his campaign knew it would be an uphill battle and it was. The staff suggested Hollings should take a drug test. Hollings said he would, if McMaster took an IQ test. There was that sharp tongue.
Nearly a dozen people spoke, including family members, sharing their memories of a colorful and storied man. Afterwards, a female cadet in the choir soulfully sang, The Lord’s Prayer. Grey haired men put their arms across each other’s shoulders, comforting one another. If you didn’t know Fritz Hollings that well, perhaps you wish you had.