Thank You, Fritz Hollings

Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-S.C., gestures as he announces that he that will not seek re-election, during a news conferen
Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-S.C., gestures as he announces that he that will not seek re-election, during a news conference, Monday, Aug. 4, 2003, in Columbia, S.C. Hollings was first elected to the Senate in 1966 (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

CHARLESTON, S.C., April 18, 2015 -- No one in modern time has given as much to South Carolina as Fritz Hollings. In seven decades of public service -- starting as a young officer in World War II to becoming governor to being elected seven times to the United States Senate -- Hollings has given back in big ways.

Most recently, the retired Democratic senator made news after he asked for his name to be taken off of a federal judicial annex in Charleston and for it to be named to honor the late U.S. District Judge Waties Waring, the courageous civil rights jurist from Charleston who paved the way for landmark school integration in the United States.

Through the years, Hollings has left a huge mark that is still paying dividends today. He's the guy who pushed through stable funding for schools in the early 1950s and later started the technical college system, which attracts companies like BMW and Boeing. Prior to retiring in 2005, he led major policy initiatives to protect oceans, thwart hunger and promote health care that are still having impacts today. Without Hollings' leadership, it would have taken more time for a telecommunications revolution that put smartphones in our pockets and revolutionized the cable TV industry.

There's no one alive who better represents why public service is critical to America than Fritz Hollings. But beyond his legendary leadership for our nation and state is the quiet, untold story of how he molded careers and shaped lives of the people who worked for him. His steady guidance and daily example of doing the right thing and steering people in the right direction made better people of those who worked for him.

"He tested you hard and pushed you to learn," one former staffer recalls. "He pushed you to think about things from different angles, ones that you didn't even know existed. He prepared you for any challenge."

Another staffer, now a Washington lawyer, says a day doesn't go by without him thinking about Hollings or using something learned from him:

Never stop learning. Look at a problem from six different directions. Never underestimate the power of a well-timed quip to change the dynamic and drive home your point. And, of course, there is no education in the second kick of a mule.

2015-04-18-1429363575-6919294-15.0417.Hollings_staff.jpgAn illustration of Hollings' renowned humor -- people still never know exactly how he is going to frame an issue -- came during a confirmation hearing for an Federal Aviation Administration official. A staffer from Charleston still remembers what Hollings said 20 years ago in a discussion of Atlanta's busy airport: "If Sherman had had to go through that place on the way to the sea, we'd have won that damned war!"

Fritz Hollings changed the lives of citizens and his staff. The 93-year-old continues to inspire people, as noted by one South Carolina woman who worked for him: "He taught me about personal responsibility -- especially dealing with mistakes. Never throw a colleague under the bus. Claim the mistake, take the heat, be quick to forgive, accept and move on."

Years ago when it was clear the shipyard and Navy base in Charleston were on a federal list for closure, Hollings' response was not to keep it quiet and do a political dance around the issue. Instead, he took it head on and told voters what he had learned. Why? Because they deserved to know quickly so they could get as much time as possible to make the case to keep the facility. He took some hits. People didn't believe him. But it was the right thing to do.

My parents taught me the difference between right and wrong. They made me who I am in so many ways. But with the guidance of Fritz Hollings through the years, I and others who worked for him learned practical ways to interact and serve. We learned there's always a way to get something done. We learned to inspire by example, fight for principles and never give up. We saw power wielded wisely.

And more than anything, we learned to think of others first. For all of these gifts, we are eternally grateful.

Thank you, Senator.

Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report, where this column first appeared. Brack served as Hollings' spokesman from 1992 to 1996.