Forget Spencer Tracey.
It was Strom Thurmond
By GRAHAM OSTEEN
Editor and Publisher
There’s something ironic about Strom Thurmond and Katharine Hepburn dying within days of each other. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s got to be some cosmic connection.
Did they ever meet? Probably. Could they have tolerated one another for more than 10 minutes? I doubt it. It’s hard to imagine two more dissimilar people, even though their lives affected an entire American century.
While their differences were vast, their similarities are clear. Both achieved legendary status, both had powerful personalities, and both of them sounded really funny when they talked.
The storyline of their unlikely romance would make for an entertaining movie. How would Hepburn have handled Strom’s legendary advances? You can imagine her halting yet assertive voice rising in volume as she traded verbal jabs with the consummate Southern drawler.
Could the liberal, strong-willed Connecticut Yankee and the frisky South Carolina Rebel ever find happiness? It’s scary stuff to think about. On Golden Pond meets Myrtle Beach.
My favorite personal “Strom Story” dates back to the early 1980s, the start of the Reagan Years. I was covering the state NAACP annual dinner in Columbia for The State newspaper, and Strom was the guest speaker.
The only white faces in the gigantic banquet room were Strom, a couple of his staff members and me. After a lengthy introduction, he got what can only be called a “cool” reception from the crowd. That’s when I witnessed the Stromboli magic.
Old Strom – he would have been a sprightly 79 or 80 back then – proceeded to give an amazing speech about South Carolina and people and race and the nation working together and progress and change, and by the end of it people were crying and clapping and giving him a standing ovation.
I spoke to him afterwards and he asked me if my new wife and I had gotten the wedding present they had sent, and please say hello to my father Hubert and my grandfather Hubert. He also said he remembered my great-grandfather Hubert and my great-great-grandfather Noah, who was a printer during the Civil War and died in 1936. I was never sure if one of his staff members was prompting him throughout this brief conversation, but I’ll never forget it.
It seems that every family in South Carolina has a Strom story, and that’s a considerable and meaningful part of our state’s history. It is said that he knew just about everybody in South Carolina, and that may have been true at one time.
One thing is certain: His ability to recognize social and political change and to adjust with the times will be written about and analyzed as long as American history is studied.