By Louise A. Barile
July 01, 2003 03:59 PM

Former U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, the oldest and longest-serving senator in history, died Thursday surrounded by his family in his hometown of Edgefield, S.C., the Associated Press reports.

The politician, who retired last January after more than 48 years in public service, began his political life as a Democrat during the Great Depression, ran for President in 1948 supporting the white segregationist movement and finally switched his allegiance to the Republican party in 1964.

Throughout his career, Thurmond was the most visible icon of Southern conservativism. “He had enthusiasm and passion like no one I’ve ever met in my life,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, who took Thurmond’s seat upon his retirement, tells AP. “South Carolina’s favorite son is gone but he’ll never be forgotten.”

The senator, whose health had been waning since leaving Washington, had been living in a suite at the Edgefield County Hospital in his hometown. He died peacefully, and his passing was marked with a moment of silence on the Senate floor Thursday night, reports AP.

“Surrounded by family, my father was resting comfortably, without pain, and in total peace,” said his son, Strom Thurmond Jr., in a statement released by the hospital.