Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, the former senator from South Carolina, has died, according to a statement from his three children.
“Our father, Fritz Hollings, was dedicated to his family, the United States Senate and the people of South Carolina. He was a hero for us and millions of Americans. He was so honored to have served the people of this great state in the South Carolina House of Representatives, as lieutenant governor and governor, and as a member of the United States Senate,” said his children, Michael Hollings, Helen Hollings Reardon and Ernest Hollings III, in a statement. “While we are heartbroken, we hope that in the coming days and weeks as we celebrate our father’s life, all South Carolinians will be reminded of his service to our state and nation.”
Andy Brack, a spokesman for Hollings, told CNN the former senator died early Saturday morning of natural causes.
Hollings, 97, was a stalwart of South Carolina politics for many decades serving both as governor of the state beginning in 1958 as well as 38 years as a US senator starting in 1966.
Several lawmakers mourned the late senator, highlighting his military and political service.
“Deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Fritz Hollings: a giant of the Senate, a hero of South Carolina and a beloved statesman of great courage and conviction,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted. “May it give his loved ones comfort that so many grieve with and pray for them at this sad time.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement, “Fritz Hollings was a good man. A patriot who fought for this country in uniform and elected office. A friend who lifted me up when it mattered the most early in my career, and taught, as he’s done for generations of South Carolinians, how to live a life of purpose and service.”
“Now rest peacefully, friend, once again with your beloved Peatsy,” Biden added, referencing Holling’s late wife.
Biden and Hollings had a personal friendship outside the Senate.
“We’re not only seatmates. We’re soulmates, and we’re friends,” Biden said at a 2006 South Carolina campaign event. “Not only did he get me elected, he and Peatsy stood by me at both the happiest and saddest times of my life.”
Both of South Carolina’s Republican senators also commemorated their predecessor.
“By any measure, Senator Hollings led one of the most incredible and consequential lives of any member of the Greatest Generation,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said in a statement.
“As the junior senator from South Carolina, he welcomed me to the Senate and helped me get established,” Graham added. “And until his dying day, Fritz Hollings was always advocating and urging for policies that would make our country strong. When it comes to Senator Hollings, they broke the mold.”
Sen. Tim Scott tweeted, “From his time as a solider in World War Two, to shepherding peaceful desegregation as Governor, or fighting for the American worker in the U.S. Senate, Fritz Hollings was a statesman who never lost his love for the Lowcountry, for South Carolina, and for his wife—Peatsy.”
Hollings is credited with creating the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, making port security stronger and helping to revamp airport security following the September 11 terrorist attacks. He was one of the authors of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act, which sought to cap federal spending, but its passage was not successful.
The Democrat was well-known for his colorful language with a deep Southern accent and distinctive silver hair. He made a brief run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984, but quickly bowed out.
In a moving farewell floor speech in 2004 covering a variety of in-depth policy issues, Hollings expressed gratitude for the enriching opportunity to serve in the Senate.
“There are a lot of good problems that can be worked and solved, but if there is a last word, it is one of gratitude,” he said. “It’s the finest experience that I’ve ever had.”
“If you really ought to be enriched your life, period, right across the board,” he added. “The best postgraduate course in everything you could possibly take is to run and be in this Senate.”
This story has been updated.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly name Sen. Tim Scott, the current senator from South Carolina.
CNN’s Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.