AIKEN - The last living sibling of South Carolina political legend Strom Thurmond, sister Mary Eleanor Thurmond Tompkins, is dead, family members said Friday, leaving memories of a determined woman who always cooked her brother's favorite foods when he came to his hometown.
She was 95.
The younger sister of the nation's longest-serving U.S. senator, Mrs. Tompkins died Thursday at University Hospital in Augusta, relatives said. Mr. Thurmond died in June 2003 at age 100, about six months after retiring from office and returning to Edgefield.
"Strom adored her, and she was the epitome of Southern grace. Everything she did, she did beyond perfection," said Nancy Thurmond, Mr. Thurmond's widow.
Mary Freeman, daughter of Mrs. Tompkins and her late husband, John Robert Tompkins, said her mother's death marked the end of an era.
"Mother just was ambitious about things and had quite a lot of determination," said Mrs. Freeman, 64, of Lugoff, S.C.
"That's one thing that kept her going as long as it did. But she told me she was ready to go."
When Mr. Thurmond came to Edgefield to visit his younger sister, Mrs. Freeman said, her mother made sure to fix his favorites: squash casserole, crab meat casserole, skinless chicken, fruit salad and her famous mint-flavored tea.
"She dearly loved her brother Strom and was thrilled when he'd come for a visit," Mrs. Freeman said. "I would run through the house as a child saying 'Strom is coming.'
"She always made me feel like it was an important event. She always treated him like that, and Mother would do anything for him."
Mrs. Tompkins lived all her life in Edgefield except for four years when she taught home economics in Clover, S.C.
She taught elementary school for more than 20 years in Edgefield County schools and children's Sunday school classes at the First Baptist Church of Edgefield, where her brother once served as Sunday school superintendent.
"She had a special place in her heart for children," Mrs. Freeman said. "She would go all out, hiding and dying eggs for Easter and dressing up in masks for Halloween. She always decorated her table for all holidays."
Ted Freeman said he couldn't have asked for a better mother-in-law.
"She was a great cook and made the best sweets," Mr. Freeman said. "I always ate the sweets that Strom didn't eat."
Mrs. Freeman said her mother always took pride in entertaining, even if it was just for one or two people.
"I always had to jump to stay ahead of her," Mrs. Freeman said. "She went through a lot of pain but never did give up on life."
The funeral will be held at First Baptist Church of Edgefield at 10 a.m. Monday.
She will be buried at Willowbrook Cemetery in Edgefield, where her brother also is buried.
Reach Karen Ethridge at (803) 648-1395, ext. 109 or firstname.lastname@example.org.