EDGEFIELD, S.C. - Strom liked to ride.
It's been written that at age 2 he started riding horses, goats - even bulls. But it was the motorcycle he sped around town on during his teens that won the ladies' hearts, Mr. Thurmond's 93-year-old sister, Mary Tompkins, said recently.
"He rode all the girls around town," Mrs. Tompkins said. "They liked that.
"He did, too."
Apparently the nation's senior senator started his reputation as a ladies' man early. He's still flirting.
During a speech to the U.S. Senate in September, he told his peers he loved them "and your wives even more."
Other than the motorcycle, Mr. Thurmond never did much as a child his family didn't agree with, Mrs. Tompkins said, sitting in her home on oak-tree-lined Columbia Road in Edgefield.
About a block from her home sits the house where James Strom Thurmond was born Dec. 5, 1902, the second of six children. Above Mrs. Tompkins' door is a picture of the white, Victorian-style home on Penn Street that Mr. Thurmond and his brothers and sisters grew up in.
It was on the roof of that house that Mr. Thurmond ran for refuge as a young child. He'd go there when "he knew mother was really going to punish him," Mrs. Tompkins said.
BUT HIS MOTHER, Eleanor Gertrude Strom Thurmond, never went up after him. She sent one of the hired help.
"She'd deal with him after that," his sister said, smiling at the memory.
Mr. Thurmond's father, John William, and his wife raised the family conservatively. When the senator graduated from Clemson Agricultural College in 1923, his father gave him a list of nine items of advice.
Among the lessons, his father told him to "remember your God; take good care of your body and tax your nervous system as little as possible; obey the laws of the land; associate only with the best people, morally and intellectually; and think three times before you act once, and if you are in doubt, don't act at all."
They're lessons that have resonated throughout his life, his sister pointed out.
Mr. Thurmond's father taught him to help others, Mrs. Tompkins said, something that stuck with the future U.S. senator.
"Daddy would tell him to get the wagon out and fill it with fruits and vegetables and meat and take it to the people who needed food," she said.
Mr. Thurmond took food to those less fortunate throughout high school and during his college summers.
"He's spent a long time giving to others," Mrs. Tompkins said.
MR. THURMOND WAS A bright pupil, Mrs. Tompkins remembered, recalling the time her older brother beat out 50 other pupils in the county spelling bee.
She said she knew her brother would amount to something - he was always hanging around her father's law office - but she never imagined he'd go on to serve as governor of South Carolina or in the U.S. Senate for 48 years.
Elisabeth Baty, an archivist with Clemson University Libraries' Special Collections at the Strom Thurmond Institute, said historians credit two significant moments in the senator's youth for shaping his political career.
The first came at age 9, when he visited then-U.S. Sen. Ben Tillman, a friend of Mr. Thurmond's father who lived in Edgefield.
Mr. Tillman asked him, "What in the hell do you want?" according to Joseph C. Ellers' book, Strom Thurmond: The Public Man.
Young Strom told the senator he wanted to shake his hand.
"I started shaking, and I've been shaking hands ever since," Mr. Thurmond said in the book.
The second moment came when Mr. Thurmond's father was managing the gubernatorial campaign of Judge Ira B. Jones, Ms. Baty said. At age 10, while watching a political debate, Mr. Thurmond decided he wanted to be governor.
Thirty-seven years later he'd take the state's top seat. Seven years after that he started his record stint as senator. He'll retire in January as its oldest and longest-serving member.
"He's had a long life," Mrs. Tompkins said. "And he's had a busy life.
"I think he had a good life."
Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895 or email@example.com.
ABOUT THE SERIES
This week, The Augusta Chronicle revisits Sen. Strom Thurmond's life and its milestones. Coverage will conclude Friday with reports from Thursday's 100th-birthday festivities.
SUNDAY: Childhood shapes future senator
MONDAY: Early years and the call to serve
TUESDAY: From state to national prominence
WEDNESDAY: Mr. Thurmond goes to Washington
THURSDAY: Senator leaves a legacy
FRIDAY: Coverage from Edgefield and Washington