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Fritz and Strom

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By: Michael Aun

http://www.aunline.com/blog

I grew up in a family of politicians. My grandfather, Elias S. Mack, Sr., was Mayor of the Town of Lexington, SC in the late forties and early fifties. His son, Elias S. Mack, Jr. was elected to the same office exactly 40 years to the day later by the same identical vote. One could argue that no one moved in or out of Lexington in forty years.

The Mayoral office was typically not party-affiliated in those days, not that it mattered. People voted for the person running, not the party. That is how and why I was able to meet many politicians of both political parties. I can safely attest that the people I met in politics were honorable, no matter the party.

Probably the two most influential politicos of my time were Strom Thurmond and Ernest Hollings, both of whom served as Governor and US Senator from the great state of South Carolina, where I spent the first 40 years of my life.

Hollings, a tall elegant man with striking white hair, could have been right out of central casting as a Presidential look-a-like. He recently died as the age of 97.

I met both Thurmond and Hollings when I was a child. They used to come and visit my grandfather in Lexington, a short 14-mile ride from the Governor’s mansion. They would come to visit their old friend “Jew Mack” and enjoy some Lebanese cooking when they each served as Governor of SC. No, he was not Jewish but in “the old deep south” he fell into that category, despite the fact he was Lutheran by faith and Lebanese by blood line.

Strom was the first person to congratulate me when I won the World Championship of Public Speaking for Toastmasters International in Vancouver, BC. His call came at 8:30 am on the morning I arrived back in SC. Fritz called twenty minutes later to tip his hat.

How could they have possibly known? Christine was back home in Lexington as she had just delivered our twin sons (Cory and Jason) just a week before. She was the only person I had called that Saturday from Canada. It was pure political savvy on each man’s part… both knowing their constituency and each having an ear close to the ground.

I got to meet Fritz a little more intimately at a gathering at the home of retired Congressman William Jennings Bryan Dorn in Greenwood, SC in the late seventies. He and a dozens of locals were trying to encourage me to enter a race for the South Carolina House of Representatives against longtime incumbent Larry Koon. 

Short version… I got my clock cleaned thoroughly in 1980, the year Ronald Reagan took on Jimmy Carter. For a Democrat, not much coattail help there.

As both these political giants passed through our lives, I watched how they morphed from staunch segregationists into diplomats of race relations during a time when race intensity, it could be argued, was at its highest. 

Thurmond did it with quiet, behind-the-scenes, almost Machiavellian moves… and Hollings with a disarmingly, sharp wit and powerful intellect. And while both men had temporary runs at the Presidency, each landed safely in their most productive spot of protecting the interests of South Carolina from the US Senate.

Fritz Hollings was a Democrat and Strom Thurmond was Republican. South Carolinians always had a foot in the White House door during their tenures, no matter who the President was. Fritz was a “lion” from the low country of South Carolina who ushered the state through some difficult political times as schools were desegregated. 

He was the architect of one of the nation’s first technical school systems that became a model for the country. He literally dragged South Carolinians kicking and screaming into the 20th century, utilizing his experiences from the firefights of World War II as a staple of his leadership.

His nearly four decades of service in the US Senate was eclipsed only by Thurmond, who finally died in 2003 at the age of 100. About the only thing that Ernest Fritz Hollings could have possibly regretted was always being referred to as the “Junior Senator” from South Carolina.

Michael Aun, CSP®, CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame® is the author of “It’s the Customer, Stupid!” (John Wiley and Sons®)