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Rita Hollings, commonly known as Peatsy, passed last night.  She had suffered from Alzheimer's for a number of years.  She was of course the (2nd) wife of former Senator Ernest "Fritz" Hollings of SC.

She was a character, as this story from The State back in 2004 reminded people:

Those who appreciate U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings' quick wit ought to meet his wife.
There was that time in 1984, for example, when the senator was running for president and Peatsy Hollings, campaigning with him in New Hampshire, was awakened in the wee hours for the umpteenth time by an overly eager aide.

She picked up the phone.

"May I speak with Senator Hollings?" the aide asked.

Mrs. Hollings paused a second, looked at her husband, and decided to have a little fun.

"Your name Hollings?" she said, almost certainly prompting an unseen blush on the face of the caller.

The early morning calls stopped.

She was a very different political wife, and I am honored to have known her.  Let me explain.

I moved to Arlington VA in October 1982.  During the build-up to the next Presidential campaign I saw where Sen. Holllings had come out for a budget freeze, which drew him a lot of attention, and then he decided to run for President.  I will not spend a lot of time talking about that campaign, which had its problems, and which died in NH, although because I decided to get involved I did get to know some people later quite important in the Democratic party, like Marcia Hale and Don Fowler Senior.

I thought Hollings offered several things as a candidate.  He was a blunt speaking truth teller.  The best way I can put it is that next to him Howard Dean might at times seem mild-mannered.

He had a wicked sense of humor.  At one debate, Reuben Askew of Florida responded to Barbara Jordan, who was asking the questions, with a fulsome expression of praise, saying that if after her keynote address at the '76 DNC Carter had thrown open the nomination for VP she would have won by acclamation.  From down at the end, off camera, one heard the clear Southern drawl of Fritz Hollings saying "Would that mean we wouldn't have Mondale?"

I aslo felt as a former governor he would bring executive experience to the race.  He was one of the more senior Democratic Senators, had represented the Senate at NATO and served on Armed Services.  He understood social issues, having authored the Women, Infants andChildren Nutrition program, WIC.  Although from the Deep South, he had a good understanding of racial issues - Ralph Everett was his appointee as the Democratic Staff Director of the Senate Commerce Committee, becoming the first African-American to hold such a position.   When first running for public office in SC the State had asked him to promise not to seek support from Negroes and he responded he would do so when they stopped selling papers to or accepting advertising from them.  As Governor he made sure that Harvey Gantt integrated Clemson with no violence.  

I admired Hollings.  I got to know and love Peatsy.

Let me explain.

Somehow even though I was a part-time volunteer with a fulltime job (although I was offered a fulltime job with the campaign), I wound up functioning as field director for Pennsylvania and Delaware.  I began commuting between Arlington and various places in PA and DE trying to build and organization.

I found out there was going to be a preferential straw poll at a state Democratic Committee hearing in Camp Springs, just outside Harrisburg.   I told the campaign that Hollings could not win it, because the Mondale people were being instructed to bullet vote for him but no one else.  I said that if they gave me the Senator he would finish 2nd, if they gave me Peatsy, he would finish third.

For those who don't remember, there were a LOT of candidates that cycle

Fritz Mondale
John Glenn
Alan Cranston
Reuben Askew
Jesse Jackson
George McGovern (briefly)
Gary Hart
Fritz Hollings

The campaign gave me Peatsy, who flew up -  later that evening I would be in the car driving her back to their home in DC, and got to have a long conversation with her.  I came to appreciate her sharp mind, her deep sense of caring for this nation and all the people in it.

On his own, then Gov. Terry Sanford of NC, chair of Hollings campaign, came up, because the idea of preferential primaries and straw polls was something he strongly advocated.

Before the formal meeting got started, we had a coffee where both Sanford and Peatsy met with people.  Peatsy charmed the heck of those with whom she chatted, including some real hard-boiled pols.  After returning to DC she followed up with personal handwritten letters to every person with whom she had spoken.  

But it was her speaking at the straw poll that really struck people.  My assessment had been correct, her husband finished 3rd.

What I had not expected is that a lot of people added her to the ballot -  she finished 5th, with official candidates McGovern, Askew and Cranston behind her.

During what was left of the campaign, before the Senator pulled out after the NH primary, when I would encounter her we would chat - sometimes about politics, sometimes she would ask about me, sometimes even about people she had met with me in Pennsylvania.

Over the years after that campaign we would occasionally encounter one another.  One was a fundraiser for someone at a lovely home on the Potomac south of Alexandria Virginia.  The other was the one time my wife and i went to the American Spoleto Festival in Charleston.  We were invited to a very fancy home on the Battery for a private party, and who walks in but the Senator and Peatsy.  She recognized me and gave me a big hug.

She would have been a magnificent first lady.  Hell, she was one hell of a gal by any standards.  Consider her part Miss Lillian Carter, part Molly Ivins.  Except she was unique, a treasure in and of herself.

When I found out she had passed, I remembered hearing a few years ago that she had developed Alzheimer's, which given how vibrant she had been was saddening to learn.

I could not let her passing go unacknowledged.

As soon as I post this, I am pouring a glass and lifting it in her honor and her memory.


You will long be remembered.

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