Dennis came to statewide attention in 1954 when—as a member of the State Democratic Party Executive Committee—he offered the motion to make Senator Edgar Brown the party’s candidate for the U.S. Senate after the unexpected death of the incumbent Burnet Maybank.
Attorney, legislator. Dennis was born at Pinopolis on August 27, 1915, the second son of Edward James Dennis (1877–1930) and Ella Mae Coney.
Rembert Dennis served almost fifty years (1939–1988) in the General Assembly, forty-six of which were in the state Senate, where he was chairman of the Finance Committee (1972–1988) and president pro tempore (1984–1988). He was the third generation of Dennises to serve Berkeley County in the General Assembly, a succession that included his grandfather Edward James Dennis (1844–1904) and his father and concluded with the retirement of Dennis in 1988. His entry into politics was prompted by two family tragedies in the early 1930s, the assassination of his father in 1930 and the death of his older brother, E. J. Dennis III, from influenza the following year. Until that time Rembert Dennis had ambitions of becoming a dentist or a doctor. He was educated at Furman University, where he was elected student body president twice, played football and track, and graduated in 1936 as an honor student. He received his law degree from the University of South Carolina Law School in 1940, two years after he had been elected by Berkeley County to the state House of Representatives, where he served two terms (1939–1942). He was elected by the same county to the state Senate in 1942 and served continuously from 1943 until his retirement in 1988. On October 3, 1944, Rembert Dennis married Natalie Brown of McCormick. They had six children.
Dennis came to statewide attention in 1954 when– a member of the State Democratic Party Executive Committee–he offered the motion to make Senator Edgar Brown the party’s candidate for the U.S. Senate after the unexpected death of the incumbent Burnet Maybank. This nomination led to the surprise write-in victory in the November general election of Strom Thurmond over Brown. Dennis later rose to prominence as Brown’s lieutenant in the Finance Committee, becoming that committee’s second vice chairman in 1969 after an unsuccessful bid for election to the S.C. Supreme Court in 1966. At the death of Brown in 1972, Dennis became chairman of the Finance Committee, a position he held for the next sixteen years. In 1984 he succeeded Marion Gressette as president pro tempore of the Senate. In his capacity as chairman of the Finance Committee and ex officio member of the Budget and Control Board, Dennis was a staunch supporter of the state’s fiscal conservatism and maintaining its AAA bond rating on Wall Street.
Dennis was also an avid outdoorsman; he was widely known as a marksman and fisherman and was famous for his interest in horses, dogs, and stalking the wild turkey. A descendant of early Berkeley County settlers, he acquired in 1970 the historic Lewisfield Plantation on the Cooper River near Moncks Corner and restored it as his family home. In 1984 and 1985 he was involved in a pair of automobile accidents, from which he suffered serious injury. Declining health forced Dennis to retire from the General Assembly in 1988. He died at Lewisfield on June 20, 1992, and was buried in St. John’s Baptist Church Cemetery, Pinopolis.
Bailey, N. Louis, Mary L. Morgan, and Carolyn R. Taylor, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina Senate, 1776–1985. 3 vols. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1986.
Bradley, Colleen. “The Last Giant: Senator Rembert C. Dennis of Berkeley County.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1995.
Dennis, Rembert C. Interview, September 19, 1980. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia.
–––. Papers. Modern Political Collections, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia.