Carolina senator turns 99

Thursday, December 6, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Strom Thurmond marked his 99th birthday by flirting with his female colleagues Wednesday, in an effort to put concerns about his vigor to rest.

"I love all of you men, but you women even more!" he declared by way of a thank-you, after Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., offered congratulations from the well of the chamber.

Those present erupted in laughter as Thurmond's estranged wife, Nancy, grinned from the gallery.

"I appreciate every one of you, especially you ladies," he added. "You are good-looking, God bless you."

Thurmond, the Senate's oldest and longest-serving member and perhaps its most famous flirt, turned 99 on Wednesday and plans to retire to his home in South Carolina after his eighth term expires in January 2003.

The birthday was a landmark for a man whose declining health has prompted several collapses this year and required a move into Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Arriving in the morning for the Senate's first vote of the day, Thurmond left his wheelchair outside the chamber and walked to his front-row seat with help from an aide. There, Thurmond held court as colleagues lined up to congratulate him.

"How you feel?" asked Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark.

"Fine," Thurmond, R-S.C., replied.

"You look fine," Hutchinson said with a pat on the arm.

Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie opened Wednesday's session with a prayer of thanks for Thurmond's service and friendship.

"Thank you for the enrichment of our lives through this man," Ogilvie said from the Senate president's chair. "We praise you for the personal ways that he's inspired us.

"He spurs us on with words of encouragement."

Dole's diet

Daschle followed up with his own salute, in which he evoked the words of a former majority leader from Kansas.

"Bob Dole used to say he would follow Strom Thurmond very carefully: Whatever he eats, Bob Dole used to eat," Daschle chuckled. "I have taken on that practice myself."

Led by Vice President Dick Cheney, Thurmond's colleagues sang congratulations a day earlier and presented him with a birthday cake at their weekly policy lunch. On Wednesday, his aides planned a private lunch in Thurmond's honor.

A decorated World War II veteran, Thurmond won his Senate seat in 1954, the first member of the chamber elected as a write-in candidate.

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