For decades, Peatsy Hollings was considered inseparable from her famous husband, U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings. Whether on the stump or driving across town she was his wife and political confidant, joined together almost around the clock even as her recent years were cruelly marred by what friends said was the onset of Alzheimer's disease.
Peatsy Hollings passed away at a late-term treatment facility Sunday. She was 77. The couple had been married for 41 years.
Friends describe Mrs. Hollings as the senator's partner in all definitions of the word, but also remember her as a feisty and independent woman who was never afraid to speak her mind.
As a senator's wife, she advocated sex education in the public schools and was pro-choice on abortion even as she was raised in the Roman Catholic Church.
She was a longtime supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment and health care reform but also proudly reveled in her Lowcountry roots, listing crab and shrimp as her favorite dishes.
S.C. Supreme Court Justice Jean Toal called Mrs. Hollings “the quintessential teacher all of her adult life.”
“Whether you were a Senator of the United States, a constituent or a member of the staff of Sen. Hollings or of any senator or senate committee, Peatsy was your teacher,” Toal told The Post and Courier.
“Her lessons were wise, witty and incredibly insightful analyses of the issues of the day, your role in the process, and your way to individual success. Anyone lucky enough to be in her classroom, whether in the Catholic schools of Charleston or the halls of the United States Senate, came away from her tutelage with profoundly personal and practical guidance to achieving goals with grace, perseverance, hard work and honesty.”
Peatsy Hollings was diagnosed with Alzheimer's approximately eight years ago and the family mostly addressed her condition out of the public eye.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley described Hollings as someone of extreme generosity, and greatly represented the state no matter the cause.
“She helped develop friendships across the aisle,” he said. “Everybody loved Peatsy, Republicans and Democrats. And they were a real pair on Capitol Hill, as they were in South Carolina. She was never elected but her role in public policy and achievements and progress and leadership in the state and certainly in Washington, was huge.”
Raised Rita Louise Liddy, “Peatsy” was born in Charleston in 1935. She graduated from St. Andrew's High School in West Ashley in 1953 before heading to the College of Charleston. That led to a career teaching government and history for nine years in Charleston-area high schools. In the classrooms of the 1950s, she was known as “Miss Liddy.”
Education soon mixed with politics. She led the Charleston County Democratic Party from 1964 to 1966, a time when Democrats controlled most all aspects of state and local government.
In 1967 she joined Hollings' staff as an administrative assistant. The marriage came about in 1971; she was 35; he was 13 years her senior. Hollings' marriage to first wife Patricia Salley had ended in divorce the year prior.
Peatsy soon fell into the role of political wife, with duties that would keep her traveling between all of South Carolina and Washington. In D.C. ,she took on the role of hostess, but also as advocate on issues ranging from the arts, mental illness, substance abuse and combating homelessness.
She also was with Hollings when he ran for the White House in 1984, speaking with authority when asked what would be her “issue” if she became first lady.
“Public education,” she answered. “I am definitely against a tax exemption for private schools. Private schools are one reason people are unequal — they don't take everybody and most people can't afford them. Public schools should be the main concern of this nation because they teach different types of people how to live with each other.” She called cutbacks in education “criminal.”
Hollings would praise the title of teacher for years after formally leaving the classroom. “I still teach, but I only have one student — Fritz,” she joked.
Retail politics, however, remained easily ingrained in her blood. “Hi, I'm Peatsy Hollings,” she was quoted as saying to a group of women at Charleston's Old Customhouse during Hollings' last Senate seat defense, against Bob Inglis in 1998. “Now, are you all registered to vote?”
Since retiring in 2004, former Sen. Hollings has maintained an office at the Medical University of South Carolina, advocating for the cancer research center that bears his name. Until her illness, she was a regular fixture with him there as well.