Buies Creek, N.C. — Hundreds of people gathered Thursday to celebrate the life and career of former U.S. Sen. Robert Morgan, who died at his Harnett County home last Saturday at the age of 90 from complications of Alzheimer's disease.
Morgan was a Harnett County native who served in the Navy during World War II and the Korean War before he was elected to the state Senate in 1954. He served 14 years there before winning the state attorney general's race in 1968 and a U.S. Senate seat in 1974.
Former North Carolina Court of Appeals Chief Judge Gerald Arnold told the overflow crowd in Butler Chapel on the campus of Campbell University that Morgan's 24 years in elected office never affected his character.
"His political campaigns he ran on integrity. No sound bites, no negative ads, no language of condescension or dog-whistle references to giveaway programs or states' rights. He was too good for that – too good," Arnold said of his close friend. "Never a whiff of scandal about him, nothing ever touched his integrity. Never in his public life do I believe he was motivated by any personal gain."
Another friend, former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Burley Mitchell, said Morgan voted to give the Panama Canal back to Panama in the late 1970s even though he knew it was unpopular back home.
"I told him, I said, 'Robert, if you vote for that, it is going to defeat you,'" Mitchell said. "I didn't think anybody had ever put it to him exactly like that, and he didn't miss a beat. He just kind of swallowed and said, 'Well, Burley, you may very well be right.' He said, 'But it's the right thing to do.' And he did."
The vote did cost Morgan his Senate seat in 1980, but Mitchell said Morgan never regretted it. He called Morgan the model of what a public servant should be.
"I think it says all in the world you can say about how a public servant is supposed to serve the people – sometimes even against their will – when he knows or thinks he knows what is the right thing for this country," Mitchell said.
After his Senate defeat, Morgan survived an aggressive brain tumor and returned to public service to lead the State Bureau of Investigation for many years. He also founded the North Carolina Center for Voter Education.
Morgan is survived by his wife, Katie.