Local Politics

Mourners attend Helms' visitation

Posted July 7, 2008
Updated October 18, 2011

— An honor guard of state troopers stood watch Monday while a slow but steady stream of mourners paid their respects to one of North Carolina's most powerful and controversial politicians, former Sen. Jesse Helms.

The Republican, who served in the Senate from 1973 to 2003, lay in repose in the sanctuary of Hayes Baptist Barton Church, 1800 Glenwood Ave., where he worshiped for decades.

Helms, 86, died of natural causes on Friday.

"Sen. Helms was one of the most consequential people that has ever served in the Senate of the United States," said longtime friend George Dunlop, who lived next to Helms for 25 years.

Flowers sent by U.S. senators and a painting of Helms at work decorated the front of the sanctuary. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, who took Helms' seat when he retired at the beginning of the decade, also sent flowers.

Dunlop remembered Helms as a kind, principled man who mixed his conservative moral beliefs with politics – and as the father-figure who walked his bride down the aisle.

"He said, 'Let me tell you something, young man. You can always be prepared to compromise your preferences. But you will never be happy with yourself if you ever compromise your principles,'" Dunlop said.

After the public viewing at Hayes Barton, Helms' family received special guests and dignitaries. Funeral services will be held at the church Tuesday afternoon before a private burial.

The public can sign a condolence book in the state Capitol until Tuesday evening. The book will be sent to the Jesse Helms Center at Wingate University, his alma mater. (Share your condolences.)

Gov. Mike Easley ordered all North Carolina state flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of Helms until sunset Tuesday.

Memories of Helms differ

Helms, who spent five terms in the U.S. Senate, is remembered by many for his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Ada Fisher, a member-elect of the Republican National Committee, said many African Americans recall Helms as a man who often fought civil-rights legislation.

"We didn't always agree on many things, but I did agree that he was going to do what he thought was right and he was going to serve the best interests of North Carolina," she said.

Fisher said she views Helms' legacy on civil-rights law differently.

"If all people are created equal, why do you need a separate bill? Why don't you just enforce the law?" Fisher said. "I thought that was flawless logic."

Helms also courted a reputation as "Senator No" for his frequent opposition to Democratic-sponsored legislation and for his blunt opinions.

Jimmy Broughton, Helms' former chief of staff, pointed to a difference in public perception of the senator and his private manner.

"I never would have worked with the man I read about in the newspaper or the editorial pages. But he was a very kind, gentle human being," Broughton said.

"Everybody now wants to give you sort of a political answer ... and he never gave a political answer to some of us on his staff," Broughton continued. "Occasionally, we would wince at some things he said, at the way he said them."

Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kansas, recalled Helms' good working relationship with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle during their two decades together in the U.S. Senate. Dole also praised Helms' constituent services and thorough preparation for votes.

"If you disagreed with him, that was OK," Dole said. "One thing we have lost is civility, and Sen. Helms ... never forgot to be civil or courteous to someone on the other side of the issue."

That civility made Helms "the stabilizer of the Senate," Dole said.

Broughton said Helms was "a beloved senator among his colleagues, Democrats and Republicans."

"Jesse was Jesse. And he never changed; he was solid," Dole said.

75 Comments

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  • davidgnews Jul 7, 9:50 p.m.

    Floyd - to clarify, I'm not responsible for apologizing for any group of people here, just as you aren't responsible for having to apologize for obsessive folks like 'now' or others.

    Whatever you think of Kennedy or anyone else isn't hurting my feelings, and it's also not my responsibility to defend those you don't like. Don't worry, I'm cynical enough to the point where I don't like any of them, and no one's cool enough to get my vote any more. I don't have a great view on the general ignorance of society, either, especially if what's usually displayed here is some kind of cross-section or sample.
    I do wholeheartedly agree with you that the total loss of civility is not a partisan issue. That said, I just called you on a statement. If I was too harsh, then I apologize. I haven't been negative toward Helms, unless pointing out the segregationist issue was taken as such. I've always praised him for his service to his constituents, so that's where I stand as far as he goes.

  • davidgnews Jul 7, 9:38 p.m.

    Floyd, considering that I'm not part of the 'far left' nor 'far right,' you all can just have at it as far as I'm concerned. All of these people are part of the problem as I see it.

    You're the one that made the statement. If you can't get out of your extreme, too ----------- bad for you I guess. Are you yet one more that sees moderate or unaffiliated people as 'far left' like so many other blindsided people around here?

    Personally, I'm tired of all of ya.

  • FloydTurbo Jul 7, 9:18 p.m.

    Davidg .... I'll make a deal with you. Upon Sen Kennedy's death, you and I will meet right here. I will castigate and apologize for any/all vile/toxic comments made by "the Far Right" re: Kennedy. I've been around this stuff long enough to know there WILL be such comments.

    At such time I'm sure I can count on you to apologize belatedly for the garbage being said now ..... deal?

    The total loss of "civility" in our society is not a partisan issue.

  • songgirl5321 Jul 7, 8:47 p.m.

    Rest in Peace Jesse ...I had the honor of calling his office once to help me with an international matter in my office.. no one thought he would help us, but he did, and then called back to make sure that our group had gotten the assistance with so desperately needed as an ordinary citizen.. I found him to be a true Southern gentleman, concerned about an every day, ordinary person ... Thank you Jessie.. We will never forget...

  • davidgnews Jul 7, 8:44 p.m.

    reelhillbilly - none of them usually do, but just look at what we have now.

    Helms did a better job for NC constituents than both Dole and Burr combined will ever do.

  • WRAL is joe_dirt Jul 7, 8:38 p.m.

    From the comments posted so far, there is no doubt Mr. Helms brought much happiness to the lives of many North Carolinians, some when he entered politics and some when he left. Most have already drawn their own personal conclusions. It was a shame he wouldn't (but could have) represented everyone.

  • davidgnews Jul 7, 8:25 p.m.

    Fun, what on earth are you talking about? Presumably something about my laundromat comment? I lived through that - here, in this state. Did you? What was THAT law about?

    Or do you mean the part about how this nation was created by a group of slaveowners that said 'all men are equal?'

    Maybe you should read it if you can't put a better example with your 'suggestions.' Either that, or just admit that we need to go back to 1862. Enjoy!

  • Fun Jul 7, 8:13 p.m.

    Davidgnews, you need to read the constitution my friend.

  • davidgnews Jul 7, 7:55 p.m.

    now, the only point you prove is your obsessive - compulsive disorder. Sad. You sound like a paranoid individual as well.

    Do you have anything better to discuss than your hypocritical worn out style of hatred? I mean I don't blame you for pointing out how useless Kerry & co. are (yes, I do agree), although you're only overstating the obvious. You just don't get beyond it all since apparently you get your thoughts only from the radio.

    You still come up with nothing. Where's the intellect here?

  • davidgnews Jul 7, 7:44 p.m.

    Floyd - looks like you're already started with the hypocrisy.

    No surprise there.

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