100 years of Strom
WASHINGTON -- Strom Thurmond, the oldest and longest-serving senator in history, reached his 100th birthday Thursday surrounded by family, friends, Supreme Court justices and leaders of the Senate he helped to reshape.
The Senate is a family, said former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., at a Capitol Hill birthday celebration, "and today the family assembles to honor its patriarch."
Hundreds of friends and supporters, many who had driven through a snowstorm from his home state of South Carolina to attend, cheered as his two sons and his daughter blew out candles on a red-white-and-blue cake. Daughter Julie announced she was pregnant, which will make Thurmond, who had his first child at age 68, a grandfather for the first time.
Thurmond, who is retiring with the end of this session of Congress, served for 48 years, longer than any senator in history, and goes out the oldest man ever to serve in the Senate.
Frail and in a wheelchair, Thurmond appeared moved by his daughter's announcement and the event in his honor. "Live a long time and enjoy the time," he told the gathering.
His career tracked many of the changes that took place in the South he represented. In 1948, opposed to Harry Truman's civil rights policies, then-South Carolina Gov. Thurmond ran for president as a Dixiecrat, winning 39 electoral votes.
He won election to the Senate in 1954, the only write-in candidate ever to capture a Senate seat, and two years later was an originator of the "Southern Manifesto" that urged defiance of the 1954 Supreme Court ruling on school desegregation. In 1957 he spoke for 24 hours on the Senate floor in opposition to civil rights legislation, the longest filibuster in Senate history.
In 1964 Thurmond, then a Democrat, switched to the Republican Party, helping end Democratic dominance in the South and initiating a political shift that has given conservative Republicans the edge.
But once civil rights law became a reality Thurmond adjusted, hiring black staffers, entering his daughter in an integrated public school and backing blacks for federal judgeships.
"America outgrew old prejudices. Strom himself came to symbolize a reasoned transformation," Dole said.
Organizers said seven of the nine Supreme Court justices -- minus Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Clarence Thomas -- attended the event, as did incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and several members of the Bush Cabinet.
Referring to Thurmond's reputation as a lady's man, a Marilyn Monroe impersonator sang happy birthday to the senator.
.much as Monroe did in the 1960s at a party for President Kennedy. Thurmond looked up and smiled when Lott said that his 89-year-old mother had a crush on him.
Thurmond served as chairman of the Judiciary and Armed Services committee, but his career was marked more by his hard work in fulfilling the needs of his constituents.
"My dad was a Democrat," said Republican Rep. Lindsey Graham, who next month will move into Thurmond's Senate seat. "But if there was anything we needed there was no hesitation who we would call -- Strom Thurmond."
"My family has been supporting Strom Thurmond since day one when he entered into the political realm," said Diane Wood Logan, originally from Edgefield, S.C., where Thurmond was born on Dec. 5, 1902. She said her grandfather boarded with the Thurmond family when Strom was a boy and helped him in his first campaign for local office in 1928.
In Edgefield, a town of 2,500 in the western part of the state, cold temperatures forced celebrations into the town gym instead of in the town square with its life-sized monument to Thurmond.
Schoolchildren sported the number 100 painted on their cheeks or hands and 100 red, white and blue cupcakes were baked for the youngsters.
The centerpiece of the party was a three-tiered sour cream pound cake with white icing supporting 100 candles that Thurmond's 93-year-old sister, Mary Tompkins, helped blow out.
South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges declared Thursday Strom Thurmond Day, giving people in the state the occasion "to reflect on the many blessings he has bestowed upon our state throughout his life."
Thurmond is to be feted at the White House on Friday, and on Dec. 12 he is to attend ceremonies at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington when the Air Force is to name its 100th C-17 cargo plane the "Spirit of Strom Thurmond."
President Bush, in a birthday message, noted that Thurmond, while serving as a circuit court judge, volunteered for combat duty during World War II and landed a glider at Normandy on D-Day at the age of 41.
"His patriotism, courage and lifetime dedication to South Carolina and his nation will always be remembered," Bush said.