Washington Former Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, a one-time Democratic segregationist who helped fuel the rise of the modern conservative Republican Party in the South, died Thursday. He was 100 and had been the longest-serving senator in history.
Thurmond died at 9:45 p.m. after having been in poor health in recent weeks, his son Strom Thurmond Jr. said. He had been living in a newly renovated wing of a hospital in his hometown of Edgefield, S.C., since he returned to the state from Washington earlier this year.
"Surrounded by family, my father was resting comfortably, without pain, and in total peace," Thurmond Jr. said in a statement released by the hospital.
The Senate temporarily suspended debate on Medicare legislation to pay tribute to Thurmond. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said, "Strom Thurmond will forever be a symbol of what one person can accomplish when they live life, as we all know he did, to the fullest." Frist, R-Tenn., then led the Senate in a moment of silence.
"He had enthusiasm and passion like no one I've ever met in my life," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who replaced Thurmond in the Senate. "South Carolina's favorite son is gone but he'll never be forgotten."
Thurmond, whose physical and political endurance were legendary -- he holds the record for solo Senate filibustering -- retired Jan. 5, 2003, after more than 48 years in office.
Age took its inevitable toll on Thurmond as he neared retirement, and he was guided through the Capitol in a wheelchair. Yet he wielded political power virtually to the end, prevailing upon President Bush to appoint his 29-year-old son, Strom Jr., as U.S. Attorney in South Carolina in 2001.
Thurmond is "beyond criticism" in South Carolina, Furman University political scientist Don Aiesi said as the senator's health declined and he underwent a series of hospitalizations late in his congressional tenure. "Strom is the most venerable of institutions here."