The Centenial Senator

An excerpt from  The Centennial Senator

Duke Short: Throughout December of 2002 all of us on the staff worked overtime to get the office packed up and ready to close. My beautiful wife Dee, bless her heart, was there with us, working late into the night and on the weekends packing and taping the boxes. None of us had any idea that the Senator hung onto as much stuff as he did. Just when we thought we had it all under control, someone would causally open a closet door only to find it filled to the ceiling with files, books, and papers of all kinds — all of which had to be gone through item by item and recorded before it left the office.

On December 15, James Graham, his wife Vanjewell, Dee and I took the Senator down to Elsie’s Skillet in Alexandria for what turned out to be our final Sunday brunch togehter. Henry Sacks and Preacher and Myrna Whitner met us there. That was a sad day. We reminesced with Elsie about the ten-plus years of Sundays we had all enjoyed together.

We knew of Mrs. Thurmond’s plans to remove the Senator from Washington and take him back to Edgefield. Neither Dee nor I agreed with those plans. We would have loved to have seen the Senator remain in Washington. The attention he would have received at Walter Reed was far suprerior to anything he had access to in Edgefield. But the family naturally wanted him to return to South Carolina, and I can understand their feelings.

The following Sunday, December 22, Dee and I visited the Senator in his room at Walter Reed. We had thought we might try going down to Elsie’s again that day, but he was too tired to get out of his bed. I remember Dee rubbed his head, and we talked about his upcoming trip home to Edgefield.

At one point Dee asked him, “Would you be happier staying here with us, Senator?” He said weakly, “Dee, I’d be happier here with you, but you understand the circumstances.” Dee started to cry. She said, “Well, if you get down there and you’re not happy, who you gonna call?” The Senator looked at Dee and smiled. “You.” His eyes glistened.

Watching the Senator over the course of that last year was like watching a once mighty engine run out of steam. Every month he grew more tired, weaker, and quieter. By December of 2002 he often spoke only in a whisper. He frequently pulled me aside while we packed the office to ask, “Duke, what can I do for you? Tell me, how can I help you?” I told him he had already helped me. I told him I was going to write a book about him one day. He cleared his throat and said, “You just be sure and say that I worked hard, and that I tried to help the people, all the people.” I promised him that I would.

We closed the office on January 3, 2003. The Senator left for Edgefield a couple of weeks later. I spoke to him a few times on the telephone. But Dee and I never saw him again.

Senator James Strom Thurmond died in his sleep at 9:45pm on Thursday, June 26, 2003. He was 100 years old.

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