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The Honorable J. Strom Thurmond, Former U.S. Senator and President Pro Tempore Emeritus from the State of South Carolina

Location: Washington, DC


    Mr. GRAHAM of South Carolina. Madam President, I compliment our majority leader for his statement. It was very eloquent and it means a lot to Senator Thurmond's family.

    I know personally that Senator Thurmond had a great fondness for Senator Frist. He told me he is a very smart man and he is a good doctor, too. If you ever need him, look him up.

    I rise today in support of this resolution on behalf of myself and Senator Hollings. I appreciate the majority leader and Senator Daschle allowing this to occur. It is offered in the spirit of Strom Thurmond's life. Something can be said about Strom Thurmond in the Senate very easily. He loved the Senate and the Senate loved him. His colleagues who have served with him so long all have personal stories of fun, good times, tough fights. He was a valuable ally and a worthy opponent, and the Senate has lost its longest serving Member. Many of us have lost a very dear friend. That goes for the Senate family, the people who help us with the doors, the clerks, and the reporters of debates. Everyone enjoyed and appreciated Senator Thurmond.

    It is important to comment on Senator Thurmond, the man. His children have lost their father. Whether one is 100 or 200, it is always difficult, no matter how long one lives, to give up their father and mother.

    I have talked to two of his three children today, and I have expressed my condolences. They are doing very well but they are sad because they have lost their daddy. I have talked with his wife. We reminisced about their life together, the raising of their children, and the experiences they have had. So my prayers, along with the prayers of everyone in the Senate, go to the family. He was a good family man. If a script was written in Hollywood about his life, it would not have ended any better in this regard.

    He became a first-time grandfather at the age of 100 last week. He has three children under 30. He had his first child when he was 68. He was just a phenomenal person. He has done things that most of us could not dream of doing in many ways.

    I am convinced that two things drove him in his final years: That he wanted to finish out his term because he is not a quitter, and when he was elected to serve his last 6-year term he meant to serve it out. He helped me to become his successor, and I will be forever grateful. He also wanted to see his grandchild born, and God allowed him to do that. He was presented his grandson last week. They tell me it was a very magic and touching moment. A week later, he passed on.

    He has suffered personal tragedy, lost a daughter in an accident. He has experienced much good and bad in his life. He has touched so many people. It is a loss to the Senate. It is a loss to his family. It is a loss to his staff.

    Duke Short, who served with Senator Thurmond in Washington for so many years, was a very loyal and capable staff director. I know that Duke and his family feel the loss.

    Dr. Abernathy in South Carolina has been with Strom Thurmond since the 1940s when he worked with him as Governor. Dr. Abernathy is a legend in his own right.

    There are so many people who have worked for Senator Thurmond throughout the years, and I know they feel this loss. Senator Thurmond has had enough interns to probably fill up a football stadium. His first group of interns are now on Social Security.

    He was elected in 1954. I was born in 1955. All I have known in my life is Senator Thurmond, and for 36 years Senator Thurmond and Senator Hollings served together. Both of them are distinctive gentlemen, bigger than life. A lot of us who have associated with Senator Thurmond feel his loss.

    South Carolina has lost her favorite son. Much has been said and will be said of Senator Thurmond's legacy. The majority leader, Senator Frist, went over his life very well, and it is just an amazing story to tell: Being a superintendent of education in the 1920s; getting elected for the first time in 1928; being a judge in South Carolina at the start of World War II, deciding to give up that job which would have exempted him from service, being in his early forties; joined the 82nd Airborne, landing in a glider. The pilot of the glider was killed when it landed. His men were wounded. He led them out and secured the objective.

    When the war in Europe was over, he volunteered to go to Japan and he fought until they quit. He was just an unbelievable person who embraced life.

    People ask me: How did he make it so long? He just had a passion. He had a passion for everything he did—his family, his constituents. His legacy in South Carolina is quite simple for every South Carolinian—black, white, rich, poor, no matter whether you are from upstate, middle, low State—I am sure every State has different regions and different dialects but the one thing we had in common: If we had a problem, we knew who to call. We knew to pick up the phone and call Senator Thurmond because if he could help you, he would.

    The average, everyday South Carolinian, from the company owner to the janitor, believed that Senator Thurmond was on their side. And when they called, they received a call back. When they wrote a letter, they received a letter back. The reason I know that is people tell me everywhere I go.

    One guy told me Senator Thurmond used to cut his grass. These stories abound. Some of them have been embellished, I am sure, but the only way that he could have lasted this long in politics, doing as many things as he has done, taking on the issues that he has taken on, is that at the end of the day people saw that he had a servant's heart.

    Part of his legacy is the 1948 campaign, and it needs to be mentioned. Senator Frist mentioned it. That was a tough time in our country. He ran as a States rights candidate with a lot of passion for the limited role of the Federal Government. He won on the platform that divided the races. That was a dark time in South Carolina. That was a dark time in our Nation.

    Senator Thurmond made a choice later in life. He could have done almost anything he wanted. But as the 1950s came to a close and the 1960s came about and people started insisting their Government treat them better, Senator Thurmond made a choice. Instead of hanging on to the rhetoric of the past and the politics of the past, he embraced the future.

    Here is what he does not get much credit for. Instead of going with the flow, which some people want to ascribe to him, he in a subtle way led a change. He could have been a barrier to change, but he made it easy for people in South Carolina, politicians on the Democratic and Republican sides, to embrace change because when Strom came out for something, it made it easier for you to come out for something because it gave you cover. When Strom Thurmond appointed the first African-American judge in the history of South Carolina to the Federal bench, it made it easier for the people in the statehouse to give appointments to African Americans. That is what we do not need to lose.

    When he embraced traditional Black colleges and started giving them the same recognition and funding as every other university in South Carolina, it made it easier for the legislature to improve the quality of life for everybody. At the end of his life, in 2001, he was awarded lifetime recognition from the Urban League in South Carolina, that is designed to build racial harmony, for his lifetime of service to traditionally African-American colleges.

    That needs to be mentioned as much as the 1948 campaign. He will be held accountable in history for that part of his life. History should know that in many subtle ways, in many bold ways, he allowed my State to move forward, and everybody in my State is better off for it.

    From a personal point, when I was in the House, I was the first Republican to be elected from my Third Congressional District in 120 years. One reason I was able to win when everybody behind me was beaten for 120 years was, Senator Thurmond, for the first time in his political career, embraced a campaign very directly—because he had been smart enough not to get involved in political races and try to represent everybody. He took to me, and I am the beneficiary of that. He said: I will come and campaign for you, Lindsey. I said: Great. And I turned to my staff and said: What do you do with a 92-year-old man? I was worried we would wear him out and we could not utilize his services. I was worried about him at age 92. Three days he campaigned for me. When he left, I said: Thank God he is gone. He wore me out.

    He had a passion I had never seen. I picked him up at the airport on day 1, in an airplane flown by his personal pilot who was 75 years old, a single-engine plane. We went to a parade in September. It is hot in South Carolina in September. We went from one end of town to the other shaking hands. We went to the funeral home because he remembered the guy who owned the funeral home always gave him apples. He walked in unannounced because the Senator wanted apples, and he got the apples. He campaigned all day. We had a fundraiser that night. We went to a football game that night. He made a speech at half time. We went to a rodeo that started at 9 o'clock at night, and he got up in the middle of the ring on a barrel and gave a speech. He wanted to see the third shift change at the textile plant. I said: I am too tired, and I went home. That went on for 3 days.

    When he left, I asked him to sign a fundraising letter for me. We were all worn out. He looked at the letter and he said you misspelled your own name and you are in the Third District, not the Second District.

    At 92 years of age, he had a passion and he helped me. I stand appreciative. When I ran for the Senate, he endorsed me in a primary. I can tell you, I would not be his successor if he had not come out and said: LINDSEY GRAHAM is the right guy to follow me. That will stick with me forever.

    What have I learned from Senator Thurmond? If you are willing to change, you can serve your State and Nation well. If you care about people, they will take care of you. Let it be said that God gave to this Nation, my State, South Carolina, a public servant, a man of great character and heart, and that we miss him, but we thank God that he gave us J. Strom Thurmond.

    I yield the floor.

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