Founding members of the Hollings Society at The Citadel. | Credit: Charleston City Paper | Andy Brack

A dozen Citadel cadets have formed the Ernest F. Hollings Society of The Citadel to honor the legacy of the  late United States senator and governor who graduated from the military college in 1942.

“We are doing this because of our belief that Senator Hollings’ legacy needs more attention on the Citadel campus in the mission of production of principled leadership,” said Cadet John J. Acker of Bluffton, chairman of the new group.  “This duty must be done by cadets for the benefit of cadets.  It’s also personal to me because I was such a great admirer.”

Retired Marine Gen. Glenn M. Walters, who is president of the college and a 1979 graduate, said in a statement that Hollings was long seen as a champion for veterans, military families, ocean policy, conservation and civil rights.

“Senator Hollings’ work as a globally known, principled leader – and one of The Citadel’s most accomplished alumni – aligns well with our core values of honor, duty and respect.  He will no doubt serve to inspire members of this new cadet club for many years.”

Hollings died at age 97 in 2019, 14 years after retiring from the U.S. Senate in which he served for 38 years.  He was widely recognized as a “tell it like it is” national leader who built a legacy to reduce hunger, fix the national budget, protect oceans, keep America competitive with a robust trade policy, help veterans and fund education.  He had a practical, intelligent approach to complex problems and a scintillating wit that often featured homespun aphorisms, such as how “the ox is in the ditch” to encourage people to pull together to find solutions.

Hollings makes a point during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing. Sen. John Danforth, R-Missouri, is on his left in the background. | Photo courtesy the South Carolina Political Collection, University of South Carolina Libraries

At his 2019 funeral in Summerall Chapel on The Citadel campus, now-President Joe Biden eulogized Hollings as a leader who embodied South Carolina and her values.

“He was South Carolina,” said Biden, who served with Hollings for 32 years.  “With every breath he brought hope to so many in this state and around the country,” later adding how The Citadel meant everything to Hollings.  “He talked about The Citadel like it was in the literal sense, his citadel.”

In the new society’s charter, cadets recognized Hollings’ legacy of leadership.

“Ernest F. Hollings lived the ideals of The Citadel by answering the call of duty and service to country time and again.”

Students created a seal for the Hollings Society that “embodied the high ideals and pillars that Fritz lived his life by – ‘Modesty, Courage and Integrity.”

Acker said the new society, which will be supported by a volunteer board of directors comprised of former Hollings aides and colleagues, is a non-partisan, non-political group that will take on service opportunities, such as volunteering for local conservation and anti-hunger projects.

Acker | Credit: Charleston City Paper | Andy Brack

Acker said he never met Hollings, but was inspired by the senator  and has learned a lot from his service to the state.

“I admire Fritz because of who he was,” the cadet said.  “In every position he was elected to and every challenge he endeavored, Fritz gave all he had and used every resource to solve problems.  He did this without thinking of the political or public perception, without the stranglehold of partisanship.”

Acker also said he hoped the society would place a campus memorial to Hollings, who he thought was the college’s most distinguished graduate of the 20th century.

“The Citadel’s mission is to produce principled leaders in all walks of life, through the values of honor, duty and respect. Who better exemplifies this mission and these values? A soldier, statesman and conservationist, a true Citadel man who worked tirelessly to feed and educate South Carolinians who needed help. Fritz epitomizes what the Citadel tries to produce.  His life, his values, and his legacy need to be talked about more at the Citadel.”

Andy Brack, publisher of the City Paper, served as a press secretary to Hollings in the early 1990s.