It has been said that the measure of a life cannot be found in the span between the dates of one’s birth and death or even in the manner of death, but in how well a life was lived.
If that is true, and I believe it is, then we know for certain that Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings lived a tremendous life.
A true patriot, he answered his nation’s call with pride during World War II and served with honor and distinction as an artillery officer in North Africa and Europe. But, for him, service wasn’t something that ended with a treaty. So, only a few years after coming home, he ran for election to the South Carolina House of Representatives.
He was only 26 years old but he won... and he kept on winning.
In the midst of his three terms as state representative, he was twice chosen by his colleagues to serve as Speaker Pro Tempore. In 1954, he was elected South Carolina’s lieutenant governor and then, at only 36 years old, he was chosen to serve as our state’s 106th governor.
Looking back now, it’s easy to lose sight of the countless jobs he helped create or forget all the good he did in just four years.
But, I refuse to forget. I refuse to forget how he raised teacher salaries and improved our public schools. I refuse to forget that his leadership was instrumental in bringing Educational Television (ETV) to South Carolina. I refuse to forget that he was the driving force in establishing our network of state technical schools lighting the way for generations of my fellow South Carolinians to rise out of poverty and into the middle class.
I refuse to forget how, as a U.S. senator, he led the fight against the hunger and despair rampant in forgotten communities across our nation. I refuse to forget how he fought to bring immediate federal relief to families devastated by Hurricane Hugo. I refuse to forget how, time and again, his fearlessness and biting wit was turned against anyone seeking to exploit working families anywhere in America.
I refuse to forget how he used his final address as governor to call for a peaceful end to desegregation and Jim Crow saying, “this General Assembly must make clear South Carolina's choice, a government of laws rather than a government of men.”
“This should be done with dignity. It should be done with law and order."
I refuse to forget because, in this era of divisiveness and demagoguery, we must remember what real leadership looks like. It is not perfection or philosophical purity but rather the relentless pursuit of grace. It matters not that you stumble and fall but that you get back up again and keep moving forward.
It is that pursuit which we see embodied in Sen. Hollings’ journey.
As I learned as a little fella’ in Swansea, South Carolina, life cannot be measured in the dates of birth and death but in the dash in between.
In that dash, Ernest “Fritz” Hollings found greatness and, in doing so, he found grace.
Thank you for your service. Thank you for your leadership. That you for your example. Thank you for your dash.
Job well done, kind sir. Job well done.
Take your rest now and sleep tight, Senator.