Dr. Michael J. Copps
Senator Hollings’ funeral in April included eulogies from a number of family members, colleagues, and friends. Among the heartfelt tributes to the Senator’s life and career was one given by Dr. Michael Copps, who worked on Hollings’ staff from 1970 to 1985 as a researcher and executive assistant, ultimately becoming his Administrative Assistant. As a representative of the “Hollings Office Family,” he spoke movingly of the Senator’s dedication to mastering the details of a wide range of issues and to providing his constituents with his very best efforts. Dr. Copps has generously shared the text of his remarks at the funeral, below.
Video of the service is available on YouTube. On the SCPC website, you can also find an oral history interview that Herb Hartsook did with Copps in 1996. A longer remembrance of Hollings was shared by Copps here.
FRITZ HOLLINGS EULOGY
Hollings Family, Distinguished Guests, Friends of Fritz:
I am here today representing the Hollings Office Family—the scores of people whose lives were profoundly and forever changed by the extraordinary privilege we had to work alongside this great South Carolina statesman.
None of us had ever met anyone like Fritz Hollings—nor will we ever again. That quick wit—the quickest I ever encountered; that habit of command that I think he was born with—charisma on steroids I call it; and that capacity he had for reacting instantaneously to the fast-changing world of policy and politics. It was a combination of understanding in the brain and a feeling in the gut that allowed him to cut to the root of a matter at just about warp speed.
I went to work for him in 1970, fresh from the groves of academe, but I never had an education like Fritz gave me, for 15 years on his staff and throughout the nearly 50 years I knew him. It made me, as it made so many of us on the Hollings Team, different and better persons. How I remember those first months when, after a television speech by the President, I’d go into the office next morning and Fritz would ask: “What did you think of that speech last night?” I would proceed to give him my very skewed ivory tower analysis; he would patiently listen, because Fritz always listened, carefully; and then it was reality check time as Fritz would say, “Oh, no, no, no, that’s not what that speech was all about,” and he would proceed to tell me in real world terms what it really was all about. He used to say that running for and serving in the Senate was the best postgraduate course imaginable. Working for him was the next best. We were all the beneficiaries of that.
The press has been filled with many a Hollings witticism these past ten days. “The ox is in the ditch” he would say when the country had a major problem. “There’s no education in the second kick of a mule.” “A man convinced against his will is a man of the same opinion still.” “On your way through life makes this your goal: keep your eye on the doughnut and not the hole.” His quotes could fill a book.
But Fritz was a serious man engaged in serious business. He tackled his job with total immersion and uncommon commitment. Before he voted he dug deeply into every issue. His expertise on the economy, the budget, trade, defense, foreign policy, education, energy, telecommunications, oceans and the environment, health and cancer research, and creating opportunity for all, and it led to an unparalleled record of accomplishment. It also brought him great respect. When people in Washington would ask who we worked for and we told them it was Fritz Hollings, they often looked envious and would tell us how fortunate we were to work with him. Another trait that I admired so much, being a former educator, was that he believed elected officials had a solemn obligation to go to Washington to learn and to share with their constituents what they learned from their experience—not with a short press statement, but in detail—sometimes more detail than may have been necessary, but those fact-filled speeches and the newsletters he sent around the state look pretty darned good compared to the sound-bite statements and reality-show politics so prevalent today. Even when some didn’t agree with his position on an issue, they understood they were being treated as mature citizens, and they respected his candor. Straight talk was the language Fritz spoke.
Fritz and Peatsy Hollings
The Hollings Office Family believed in loyalty. We were loyal to him and he was loyal to us. If we messed something up—and that happened once or twice—he would let us know, with that voice booming even more than usual, sometimes accompanied by a little redness in the face, and some very colorful language to boot. But that was the end of it, and he never took his complaints outside the office. Learning loyalty was another part of the education he gave us.
Peatsy was part of our education, too—a huge part. We can’t remember Fritz without remembering her. People met Peatsy and people loved Peatsy on the spot. She was the best adviser and best friend-maker he ever had. And she shared with the office staff enormous common sense and steadying calm in even the most difficult times. Fritz and Peatsy were each bright shining stars in their own right; together they were absolutely dazzling. Easing the pain we feel today is knowing they are together again.
We really were a family. We cared for each other. We worried about one another. And we had fun together. We went to their house, they came to ours. The Senator and Peatsy came to the hospital the night our first child, Bobby, was born. Bobby had a crop of thick dark hair. Fritz took one look at him and said, “Copps had a hippie.” Another time, we accompanied the Hollings to a formal ball; a lady there was wearing a rather revealing strapless gown that she made for the occasion. Peatsy said “Look, Fritz, Janet made that dress herself.” “When is she going to finish it?,” he asked.
I loved Fritz Hollings. He was the most impressive man I ever met. He lives on in me and those I speak for today with a presence that his passing cannot extinguish. I’ll be seeing Fritz and getting advice and inspiration from him for the rest of my life. Today we mourn, of course, but we also celebrate. How can we do anything but celebrate such a memorable life and such a good man? And how can we do anything but celebrate our good fortunes—yours and mine—for having been a part of that life?