AIKEN - In the past quarter-century, Strom Thurmond has faced his closest and last election, the tragic loss of his oldest child and health problems that have forced the nation's longest-serving senator to take up residence in a hospital.
The era also has defined Mr. Thurmond's legacy of public service.
Since 1977, the man who turns 100 on Thursday has had buildings, rooms and bodies of water named after him.
Examples are the Strom Thurmond Mall in Columbia and the Strom Thurmond Room in the U.S. Capitol.
The most recent honor for the man once known for his strict exercise routines is the unfinished Strom Thurmond Fitness and Wellness Center at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. The $40 million center is scheduled to open this spring.
It is the 18th building, room or other construction named for the senator and serves as a tribute to the vigor that characterized most of his life.
College of Charleston political science professor Bill Moore said Mr. Thurmond has been the highest-profile political figure in the state in the past 50 years.
Senator Strom Thurmond sits high in the saddle as he waves to festival goers while riding during the 24th annual Ridge Peach Festival in Trenton S.C. in this 1994 photo.
The biggest reason might be his constituent service.
Three generations of high school graduates have received letters of congratulations from the senator. He sent condolences to widows, and he especially loved to telephone brides on their wedding day.
It was in the last 25 years of Mr. Thurmond's political career that he experienced his closest Senate race. In 1978, he was challenged by Charleston businessman Charles "Pug" Ravenel. Mr. Thurmond won with 55.6 percent of the vote.
Mr. Ravenel was quoted as saying that "asking people to vote against Strom Thurmond is like asking them to cut down a palmetto tree."
In 1981, the senator began service as the chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, where U.S. Supreme Court nominees, constitutional matters and civil rights proposals are first considered.
He remained as chairman until 1987, when the Democrats took control of the Senate.
Although he ran for president in 1948, the closest he ever got to the highest office in the land came when he was named president pro tempore of the Senate. The appointment put him third in line for the presidency, after the vice president and speaker of the House.
He served in that position twice, first from 1981 until 1987 and from 1995 until June 2001, when he was 98.
In 1989, Mr. Thurmond and his wife, Nancy, separated after 21 years of marriage.
The family was brought together in a tragic way a few years later. On April 13, 1993, the senator's oldest child, 21-year-old Nancy Moore Thurmond, was struck by a drunken driver in Columbia.
She died the next day, one month shy of her graduation from the University of South Carolina. She carried in her purse a loving letter from her father.
The driver, Corrinne Koenig, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to two years in prison.
In 1996, Mr. Thurmond announced his bid for an eighth term, despite questions from both parties about his age.
Mr. Moore said public opinion polls showed that a majority of South Carolinians did not believe Mr. Thurmond should run again.
"Those same polls also mentioned if he ran, they'd vote for him," he said.
Mr. Thurmond received the support of every Republican constitutional officer and every state lawmaker except Harold Worley, who took him on in the GOP primary along with Charlie Thompson, a professor at Charleston's Trident Technical College.
Mr. Thurmond won the primary with 60 percent of the vote.
Mr. Worley, 53, a hotel operator in North Myrtle Beach, said the end of Mr. Thurmond's tenure is an important time to reflect.
"I think the senator is like most people who are 100 - worn out," Mr. Worley said. "He's done a great job for the folks of South Carolina."
Strom Thurmond as a baby in 1903.
In the general election, Mr. Thurmond won his last race, defeating Democrat Elliott Springs Close, a 43-year-old textile scion and real estate developer from Fort Mill.
On Dec. 5, 1996, Mr. Thurmond became the nation's oldest serving senator. The next May he became the nation's longest-serving senator.
His health problems in recent years have included frequent fatigue and prostate problems that required surgery in 1999.
In 2000, Mr. Thurmond missed the GOP national convention for the first time since 1964.
In November 2001, the senator moved into the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He is expected to live in a wing of the Edgefield County Hospital after his term ends in January.
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
Reach Matthew Boedy at (803) 648-1395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.