- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

Sen. Strom Thurmond, the oldest and longest-serving senator in American history, was feted with jokes, tributes and tears on his 100th birthday yesterday .

The South Carolina Republican, retiring after 48 years in the Senate, was given a very special gift by his daughter, Julie Whitmer, at the end of the party: news that his first grandchild is on the way.

"I knew you were going to give me what I wanted," said Mr. Thurmond, wiping a tear from his cheek.

"It was wonderful to see Strom react to the news of his grandchild," said Sen. Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican. "It was touching."

Mr. Thurmond's hour-long centenarian celebration was paid for by several private corporations and broadcast nationwide. South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges declared yesterday "Strom Thurmond Day" in his state.

Former aide Thad Strom began the party, and the comedy, by noting that among the things the famously flirty Mr. Thurmond would never miss are votes on the Senate floor and "the grand opening of a Hooter's restaurant."

Mr. Strom said he had "20 years of stories" he could tell about the senator, "and even a few I can actually tell in public."

He recounted a tale from the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston in which he led Mr. Thurmond out of the Astrodome but out the wrong side. Not knowing which of about 200 buses in a nearby parking lot would take them back to the Marriott, Mr. Thurmond, then 90 years old, started banging on random doors.

His search proving fruitless, Mr. Thurmond suggested he and his aide start to "just walk in the general direction of the hotel." After a few minutes, said Mr. Strom, they found themselves in a dangerous-looking neighborhood.

A police car approached. The Houston police officer rolled down the window because he recognized Mr. Thurmond.

The senator asked the police officer for a lift to the Marriott. The officer said he woukd be happy to oblige but he had a burly "250-pound prisoner" in the back.

"Senator Thurmond looked into the window, opened the door and said 'Slide over,'" said Mr. Strom. "We pulled him out the car by his coattails."

Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, who was learning to walk when Mr. Thurmond was participating in the D-Day invasion of France in World War II, couldn't help but notice the significance of yesterday's snowstorm.

"I always said that Strom wouldn't leave until the Capitol froze over, and darned if he didn't," he said.

Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, said he is in debt to Mr. Thurmond because he met his wife, Franki, while she was working for Mr. Thurmond and Mr. Roberts was working for another senator.

Mr. Roberts added with a laugh that Mr. Thurmond "always said if I didn't marry her he would, so I had to work fast."

Mr. Thurmond was born before the Wright Brothers' mastery of powered flight, was a teenager during the Bolshevik Revolution yet outlived communism and lately voted on bills that helped advance the computer and space ages.

Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who served in the Senate with Mr. Thurmond from 1969 through 1996, said he and his longtime friend had made a deal. "I'm here to fulfill a promise. We said we'd each speak at each other's 100th birthday, and I've held up my end of the bargain," said Mr. Dole, 79. "Strom, I'll see you in Kansas."

Mr. Thurmond's son, Paul, acknowledged his father's "appreciation of women" and the senator proved it by running his eyes over a Marilyn Monroe impersonator before putting his arm around her waist while she sang Happy Birthday to him near the end of the tribute. Three of Mr. Thurmond's children blew out 100 candles on a huge cake decorated like an American flag.

Paul Thurmond congratulated his father on retirement, but suggested it doesn't have to be permanent if he gets restless. It was a playful warning to South Carolina's seven-term, 80-year-old junior senator, Ernest F. Hollings.

"Try it for a couple of years, and if you don't like it, maybe we'll give Senator Hollings a run for his money in 2004."

Amy Fagan contributed to this report.

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