Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Jesse's Personal Touch

Posted July 7, 2008

One of my first assignments as a rookie radio reporter right out of college was to cover the first Senate campaign Jesse Helms. The reason I was assigned to cover Helms was simple. He was expected to lose. The veteran reporters on our radio staff at WKIX were assigned to cover the expected Democratic winners. As you know Helms won his race that year along with Republican Jim Holshouser who became the first GOP governor of the 20th century.

Months earlier hints of Helms' interest in the Senate sparked numerous discussions in political science classes at UNC. Quite frankly Helms was not the most popular man among Carolina students. In his televised editorials he frequently criticized "the liberal leaning campus" and we, as students, frequently criticized him in class for being too rigid and conservative. Many of us were quite surprised when he actually took the political plunge.

What I personally think of Helms' politics is unimportant. However, I would like to tell you about my relationship with him. He was always accessible and friendly. Helms had the rare ability in a one-on-one setting to make you feel special and important. He had a nickname for me - "Skipper." Helms said I reminded him of Hargrove "Skipper" Bowles. They grew up together in Monroe and played in the high school band together. I liked my nickname because Skipper Bowles was one of my all-time favorite Tar Heels. He was a tireless public servant who loved North Carolina dearly. Bowles would have probably become governor had it not been for the Richard Nixon landslide victory of 1972.

This warm and personal touch helped Helms build a reputation for outstanding constituent services. If you needed help on something in Washington you knew Jesse was the man to call. He and his staff would make things happen.

What about you? What are your memories of Jesse Helms on the eve of his funeral?


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  • Just my thought Jul 8, 2008

    Very well said, Fran!

  • North Carolina Home Jul 8, 2008

    mOnky, Bill Leslie asked that we share our memories of the Senator. You remember him in a negative way and you have every right to do so. Allow others that view the larger body of work the same consideration. As far as helping to paint North Carolina as a bigoted state, let me remind you that North Carolina is considered a conservative state and he never lost an election here. I don't hear anyone "putting him on a pedestal" but recognizing his contributions overall. What exactly would you have the world at large do on the day of his funeral? Cheer? I hope on the day of your funeral you are given the respect for your GOOD deeds and that your enemies do not exhibit the same behavior that you suggest is fitting for the deceased Senator Helms.

  • jdlewis76 Jul 8, 2008

    No, I don't.

  • m0nky Jul 8, 2008

    you confuse tolerance with naivety

  • jdlewis76 Jul 8, 2008

    To the liberal mind, tolerance is a one-way street.

  • NC is my home Jul 8, 2008

    Jesse Helms was a servant to the people of North Carolina. It didn't matter the politics of a thing, he always did what he thought his constituents wanted. It cost him alot. Ironically, he died on the same day as another great North Carolinian: Charles Kuralt (9/10/34-7/4/97). Both loved America and their home state. We are fortunate to have men (and women) who will stand up for what they think is right no matter the cost. North Carolina is “the goodliest land”.

  • m0nky Jul 8, 2008

    Fran, he did do some good, yes. But being blind to the bad he did simply because he recently died is just as bad as over looking the good. Yes he helped those in need and donated money (much later than he should have but better late than never) to AIDS relief, but he helped paint a bigoted picture of north carolina for the rest of the nation. i just don't feel mr. helms deserves to be put on a pedestal simply because he died. if he had used his power for the betterment of ALL north carolinians, i'd be all for praising him.

    i did not know him personally and while i'm sure he was as cordial and respectful as you say he was in person, it doesn't erase the face the put to the public.

  • North Carolina Home Jul 8, 2008

    How sad that the life and service of this man to his home state and his country is reduced to the short term memory of the media's depiction of him as racist and homophobic. I knew him and he was as pure a patriot as there ever has been. He was a freedom fighter in the truest sense and would vehemently defend the right of free speech accorded those who narrowly define him here in their negative views of him. History yet to be made will validate this man's efforts to keep America a free country.

  • m0nky Jul 8, 2008

    I can't wrap my head around the idea that people respect him simply because he "stuck to his cause." if that is all you can really respect him for, you're grasping at straws. if you use that kind of logic you can say "well...hitler really stuck to his cause, so i respect him for that." or "those cardinals really stuck to their cause during the spanish inquisition. gotta give em that."

    what a horrible reason to respect someone. conviction without a good natured purpose can be an evil thing. i don't know about you, but i don't consider bigotry a good natured purpose.

    i'm sure helms had some redeeming qualities. respect him for those. not for misdirected conviction.

  • lindaishere34 Jul 7, 2008

    The memories I have are more like nightmares Bill. Jesse Helms may have been a "good ole boy" with charm and southern hospitality, but he was nothing but a rabid racist who only catered to the divisive side of conservatism. The history is there for historians to judge...




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