Sculptor Rick Weaver captured the body language of Fritz Hollings just right in a new statue unveiled Monday as former colleagues heaped praises on the retired senator, now 95.
Three things stand out in the bronze figure – the warm, but determined, look on Hollings’ face; how his left hand is grasping a rolled-up document; and, most notably, an outstretched right hand, a familiar gesture to many of the senator’s former staffers and friends.
“I asked him what he felt was the quality he possessed that allowed him to succeed in his work,” Charlottesville, Va., sculptor Weaver said in the ceremony program. “He said very quickly, ‘My ability to make friends.’ So in subtle ways, I tried to show that – his hand gesture, him turning to face someone. I wanted to convey how actively engaged he was all his life.”
Senior U.S. District Judge Michael Duffy, who was master of ceremonies during the two-hour event in a garden of the J. Waties Waring Federal Judicial Annex, noted that Hollings continued – even after retirement – to fight battles over ideas he believed in. Duffy joked that the rolled-up scroll surely had the words “VAT tax,” or value-added tax, inscribed somewhere because Hollings, a lifelong Democrat, had long pushed the system as a way to provide government revenues.
The program included seven speakers, all of whom were eloquent in stories about Hollings’ five decades of public service from being a World War II Army officer to state representative, lieutenant governor, governor and U.S. senator.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, right, told the 400 people in attendance how he wouldn’t have been in the U.S. Senate or become vice president had Hollings not encouraged him. Not only did Hollings, then chair of the Senate reelection efforts in Washington, endorse a 29-year-old Biden in 1972 when he was many points down in a poll, he inspired him.
“It meant more to me than just endorsing me,” Biden recalled. “It gave me faith in myself. Confidence matters and you instilled an enormous amount of confidence in me like you have in so many of your troops here,” pointing to dozens of former staffers.
He outlined how Hollings and his late wife, Peatsy, adopted him after his wife and daughter were killed in a car crash just weeks after Biden won the Senate election. “They embraced me … and it had nothing to do with politics.”
Biden described how politics has always been about helping people – about “performance over promise,” mimicking a long-time campaign slogan: “With you, it’s always been performance – always, always, always, always.”
Hollings briefly took the microphone to thank Biden.
“We sat together for 30 years and I can say without exception that he knew how to wheel and deal. [President] Barack Obama was a brilliant candidate. But he didn’t know how to wheel and deal and … he made a success because of Joe Biden and that made me proud.”
Other speakers noted Hollings’ long list of accomplishments, from winning the state’s first AAA credit rating and starting the technical college system to attract economic growth to having the courage to write about hunger in South Carolina and working to develop a federal women’s and children’s feeding program to give young children a fighting chance. They outlined his work to protect sensitive environmental treasures, such as the ACE Basin, and curb runaway federal spending.
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, above, a former Hollings campaign manager whose family was involved in Hollings’ political entire political career: “It took four decades of Tecklenburgs to support one generation of Hollings.”
Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, above, who joked about being the fifth “victim” in 1986 when he lost a Senate race to Hollings: “He’s done a great job for the state and the country. Senator Hollings, speaking on behalf of grateful citizens, thank you.”
Clyburn, center, greets friends including former state Circuit Judge Richard Fields who was wearing a hat. At right in the red tie is former Mayor Joe Riley.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, reflecting on the creation of Congaree National Park: “We have a national park here [in South Carolina] because of Fritz’s creativity and vision.” Referring to people who will view the statue in the future, he added, “They may gaze upon this statue, but will never be able to know what you have meant to this state, but I know this – it’s immeasurable and I thank you for it.”
Former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, on Hollings’ tenacity and energy in working to help Charleston rebuild after Hurricane Hugo in 1989: “We had this dynamo in Washington determined to get every federal resource he could to Charleston.”
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, above, who said he was blessed to have Hollings as a mentor in his early days in the Senate: “Your name should be on more [buildings]. You represent the greatest generation well.”
Former staffer Mary Jo Manning, a Charleston native, referring to Hollings’ vast knowledge: “Google wasn’t around for most of his career, but he didn’t need it. The staff did.”
Hundreds listened to the ceremony near the Four Corners of Law.