Thurmond begins 100th year, accepts Senate congratulations, feels 'fine'

Wednesday, December 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ If there was any doubt that Sen. Strom Thurmond remained vigorous on his 99th birthday Wednesday, he sought to put it to rest.

``I love all of you men, but you women even more!'' he declared by way of a thank-you, after Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., offered congratulations from the well of the chamber. ``I appreciate every one of you, especially you ladies. You are good-looking, God bless you.''

Those present erupted in laughter as Thurmond's estranged wife, Nancy, grinned from the gallery.

Thurmond, the Senate's oldest and longest-serving member _ and a legendary flirt _ plans to retire to his home in South Carolina after his eighth term expires in January 2003.

As he began his 100th year, Thurmond's colleagues lined up Wednesday morning to offer their congratulations.

``How you feel?'' asked Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark.

``Fine,'' Thurmond, R-S.C., replied.

``You look fine,'' Hutchinson said with a pat on the arm.

Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie opened Wednesday's session with a prayer of thanks for Thurmond's service and friendship.

``Thank you for the enrichment of our lives through this man,'' Ogilvie said from the Senate president's chair. ``We praise you for the personal ways that he's inspired us.

``He spurs us on with words of encouragement.''

Thurmond's colleagues sang congratulations to him a day earlier and presented him with a birthday cake at their weekly policy lunches. On Wednesday, his aides planned a private lunch in Thurmond's honor.

A decorated World War II veteran, Thurmond won his Senate seat in 1954, the first member of the chamber elected as a write-in candidate. A 1948 presidential hopeful, he also holds the record for solo filibustering _ more than 24 hours _ which he set opposing a desegregation bill.

It passed despite his persistence, and Thurmond later threw his support behind racial integration, attributing the shift to keeping in tune with the nation.

Thurmond, who gets around the Capitol grounds in a wheelchair, walked onto the floor of the Senate with an aide's help just before the first vote of the day.

Taking his seat in the front row, he was quickly surrounded by colleagues.

Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., leaned over to admire Thurmond's blue-and-red tie.

``It's great!'' Lott declared. Later, addressing the chamber, he added, ``He's looking rather dapper today.

``Here,'' Thurmond replied, opening a drawer in his desk. Like other colleagues who offered birthday wishes, Lott walked away sucking on a piece of candy.