Local Politics

'Good and faithful servant' Jesse Helms praised, remembered

Posted July 7, 2008
Updated October 12, 2011

— Family and political colleagues Tuesday praised the service and integrity of former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms as hundreds of people attended his funeral, including Vice President Dick Cheney.

Helms, 86, died July 4 after years of declining health.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate minority leader, told the packed Hayes Barton Baptist Church that he recalled Helms' being asked one time about his ambitions after serving in the Senate. Helms replied, "The only thing I'm running for is the Kingdom of Heaven," McConnell noted.

As he praised Helms, McConnell echoed a biblical passage read by Rev. Tom Bodkin, Hayes Barton associate pastor: "Well done, good and faithful servant. … Come and share in your master’s joy.”

Helms' adherence to his principles was a theme throughout the speakers' comments.

There is often a disconnect between how the public perceives a person and how that person is one-on-one, McConnell said. "No one seemed to suffer more from this peculiar disconnect more than Jesse Helms, and no one seemed to care about it less," he said as the congregation laughed heartily.

A frequent target of editorial-page critics, Helms was unfazed, McConnell recalled. He relished a wall covered with editorial cartoons about him, the minority leader said.

Once, after The New York Times had criticized Helms severely, McConnell said, an aide drafted an equally harsh response. Helms read it, then put his hand on the aide's shoulder and told him, "Son, just so you understand, I don't care what The New York Times says about me."

"He put duty above all else," McConnell said, "duty to God, to country, to family and a duty that's often overlooked – the duty of treating other people well."

"You always knew where Jesse Helms stood on the issues," but not how hard it could be to hold those stands in the face of criticism, his granddaughter, Wake District Judge Jennifer Knox, told the congregation.

"You can compromise on your preferences, but never your principles" was the lesson he taught, Knox said.

McConnell quoted a message that the singer Bono had sent to the Jesse Helms Center: "Give (Helms' wife) Dot and the family my love and tell them there are 2 million people alive in Africa because Jesse Helms did the right thing.”

Among those in the church were Sens. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Joseph Biden, D-Del., both of whom served with Helms on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Sen. Elizabeth Dole, who took Helms' seat when he retired in 2002, and her husband, former Sen. Robert Dole, who represented Kansas; and Cindy McCain, the wife of presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

Bodkin presided over the funeral services, and speakers included McConnell, former aide Jimmy Broughton and Helms’ grandchildren.

Also attending were most of the state's delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Cheney flew in for the funeral, according to Cheney spokeswoman Megan Mitchell, and Interstate 40 was closed for his motorcade after he landed at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

The funeral was shown on closed-circuit television in a nearby gym. The church and gym each seat about 800 people.

A private burial service followed.

Several hundred people paid respects to Helms at a closed-casket visitation at the church Monday. Attendance was steady during the day and picked up in the early evening when Helms' family greeted visitors at the front of the sanctuary.

The coffin of Helms, who served in the Senate from 1973 to 2003, was covered with a U.S. flag and flanked by two state Highway Patrol troopers before the service began. The front of the sanctuary was decorated with flowers sent by U.S. senators and a painting of Helms at work.

Helms won his first election in 1972 after a career in newspapers, radio and television commentaries and rose to become a powerful committee chairman.

He never lost a political race, but his margin of victory was never large, reflecting his image as a polarizing figure both at home and in Washington. In the Senate, he forced roll-call votes that required Democrats to take politically difficult votes on cultural issues, such as federal funding for art he deemed pornographic, school busing and flag-burning.

He also ran racially tinged campaigns in his last two runs for Senate, defeating former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, who is black, in 1990 and 1996.


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  • Sincerity Jul 10, 2008

    "Some liberals are uncivil, rude, crude, obnoxious and have no sense of decorum whatsoever"

    Really, Ann Coulter is a liberal?!!!

  • Dr. Dataclerk Jul 10, 2008

    Helms the love he had for ALL the people of North Carolina, no matter the race, creed, color, ethnicity, or sexual preference.

    Even for the "Black People?" I don't think so. You cannot change his life now. That was up to Helms to change himself. Where is the love he was suppose to have had for the black people? None that I see. Your comment is not good.

  • Dr. Dataclerk Jul 10, 2008


    Please!! Explain why he was so racial and negative to the black people. He was not all of that.

  • Jay4 Jul 9, 2008

    Thank you to all those who recognized in Senator Helms the love he had for ALL the people of North Carolina, no matter the race, creed, color, ethnicity, or sexual preference. If somebody from NC (and from many other states) needed help in cutting through the federal government red tape-Senator Helms and his staff WORKED TIRELESSLY - OVERTIME if needed to see that whosoever came to him for help was helped! Talk to the over 150,000 people that his office has records of helping. Then go and talk to the former GULAG residents who had been dying in the USSR slave labor camps. and let them tell you what they think of Sen. Helms and his firm stand against the unspeakable horrors of communism. Those today who are yapping about "racism" this and "prejudice" that have no idea what real PREJUDICE is when it is coming at you with an iron fist from the godless government thugs who rule in communist/marxist/maoist/castro-ist ruled nations-prejudice which is IGNORED by the ignorant and the blind.

  • haggis basher Jul 9, 2008

    "The fact is that your beloved Soviet Union was brought to its knees thanks to no small party played by the man"
    Hardly, The Soviet Union collapsed because it was based on a stupid economic model that has not and will never work. The Chinese learned what the Russians never did until too late...Socialism/Communism just makes everyone equally poor. Thats why China is no only Communist in name only.

  • haggis basher Jul 9, 2008

    "Why is it okay to be honest about hate and bigotry?"

    Its not but some folks are very afraid of speaking ill of the dead. Actually its the best time to do so....they can no longer take you to Court :)
    Seems like he was a man of his times...Those times just died a while before he did.

  • Doctor Dataclerk Jul 9, 2008

    30 years of service at the pleasure of the majority of North Carolina voters is his legacy. Those 45% that voted against him , stop whinning because you lost. We're a republic, that's how it works.

  • lgander41 Jul 9, 2008

    While I am sure Mr Helms did some good things for his North Caolina constituents, I ,as a former resident of North Caolina, would say his good works were limited. I can imagine him saying"Bless your heart" to a person of color and then when the cameras were gone, he went ahead implementing his segregationist beliefs. I am sorry that he died,his family will miss him, but saying he was a " religious man, a good Christian" is up for interpretation and debate, in my opinion.This commentary is from an everyday average white woman who has relocated to her home state.

  • YeaOh Jul 9, 2008

    RaleighRocks - Race was an issue for election and everything else because his job required him to work on laws that granted and denied rights based on the color of people's skin.

  • RaleighRocks Jul 9, 2008

    Helms served his constituency well. That is what he was elected for, so he did a good job there, but he was a divisive man who only seemed to find the healing powers of unity late in life. (There is no reason for a person to bring up race, ever, when it comes to trying to get elected, or to get any other thing for that matter.) Yes, he helped, but he hurt just as much. For those who want to praise him, do so. Your praise falls on many deaf ears. He is gone, let's get on with life.