Hollings, known as “Fritz,” began his career in 1949 as a state legislator. He became governor, ran for president and was a revered populist who took care of the military, business interests and the folks back home. His tenure as senator of 38 years and 55 days made him the eighth longest-serving senator.
He began his career as an orthodox segregationist but evolved into a social moderate. By 2005, when he left the Senate, Hollings had established a long record of support for civil rights.
Reminded in a 2004 interview on “60 Minutes” that he had voted against the 1967 nomination of Thurgood Marshall as the first black Supreme Court justice, Hollings expressed regret, but offered an excuse. “I couldn’t get re-elected,” he said. “If I had voted for him, I might as well withdraw from the race.”
Ernest Frederick Hollings was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on Jan. 1, 1922, to Adolph G. and Wilhelmine Meyer Hollings. He graduated in 1942 from The Citadel, the military college in Charleston. In World War II, he was an Army artillery combat officer and was discharged a captain in 1945.
He graduated from the University of South Carolina Law School in 1947, and after practicing law for a year, began a political career that would span a half-century. He served three terms in the state House of Representatives, from 1949 to 1954, and was elected speaker pro tempore in 1951 and 1953. He was elected lieutenant governor in 1954 and governor in 1958.
Constitutionally limited to a single four-year term as governor, he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1962. But the incumbent winner, Sen. Olin D. Johnston, died in 1965. Hollings won a special election in 1966 to succeed him, and won re-election in 1968 to a full six-year term.
His run for the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination fizzled in the New Hampshire primary, where he won 4 percent of the vote. Hollings remained popular in South Carolina, winning elections comfortably.
In retirement, he wrote newspaper columns, taught at the Charleston School of Law, founded a scholarship program and established the Hollings Center for International Dialogue. He was also the author of “The Case Against Hunger: A Demand for a National Policy” (1970), and “Making Government Work” (2008, with Kirk Victor), which answered, as he put it, “the critics who reflexively disparage government.”
He is survived by three children, Michael Hollings, Helen Hollings Reardon and Ernest Hollings III; a sister, Barbara Hollings Siegling; seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.