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Strom Thurmond's Amazing Longevity

He'll set a Senate record this weekend for time served

By Charles Bierbauer/CNN


WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 22) -- A record will be set this Sunday that may last through the ages. At a time when some members of Congress flee in frustration after only a few years, South Carolina's Strom Thurmond defies the limits of endurance.

Thurmond will eclipse the Senate's endurance record -- 41 years, 9 months, 30 days -- on Sunday.

"I've just taken it in stride," he says. "Try to do my duty, carry on my work as usual."

The overall record for Congress resides in the House, where the late Rep. Jamie Whitten of Mississippi served for 53 years, two months and 13 days. Thurmond would have to serve another full term after this and live to 106 to beat that.

At 94 he's already the oldest senator ever. Thurmond credits his longevity to good genes, good diet, and daily exercise. He ticks off his regimen: "Pushups, situps, twisting, bending, stretching. Twenty minutes riding a stationary bicycle."

Political longevity takes a different regimen. On Capitol Hill it's known as "constituent service."

That's why South Carolina has elected him eight times since 1954. That's why there's a Strom Thurmond Highway and a Strom Thurmond Dam. These days many senators may stay a term or two. Many leave in frustration.

Thurmond chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, champions defense and calls it all a challenge. "And I like a challenge," he says. "I liked it as a school teacher. I liked it as superintendent of education. And I liked it as a state senator. And I liked it as a judge. And I liked it as governor. It's a challenge. I love challenges." (160K wav sound)

Before he came to Washington, he'd already run for president. In 1948 Thurmond walked out on the Democrats and ran as a "Dixiecrat." States' rights and race were the issues, though Thurmond says he only upheld the laws of segregation until they were changed. "The South fell in line and obeyed the law," he says now. "And we have as good race relations as any part of the country, if not better." (96K wav sound)

Thurmond married twice, and fathered four children in his 60s and 70s. His daughter is his date these days.

But the Senate, where he ranks as president pro tem, third in the line of presidential succession, is his life. "You really don't have any time for anything else when you're in the Senate if you do your duties properly," he says. "And I give my whole life to the Senate." (96K wav sound)

That adds up to 41 years of his life and counting. Thurmond will be 100 when this term is up in 2003.

What would he do if he retired? "I'd have to think about that," he says with a laugh.

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