Raleigh, N.C. — Sen. Don East, R-Surry, died this morning after being hospitalized with back problems last week, according to Senate President Pro Temp Phil Berger's office. From a news release:
He is survived by his daughter, Gina Southern, son-in-law, Mickey Southern, and two grandsons, Matt and Jake Southern.
East served seven terms in the North Carolina Senate, where he represented Alleghany, Stokes, Surry and Yadkin Counties.
Previously, East served as a police officer in Winston-Salem and as a Surry County Commissioner. He also owned a small farm in his hometown of Pilot Mountain.
“Sen. Don East was a dedicated public servant whose life’s work was looking after the people he represented,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham). “From his time as a police officer and county commissioner to his years in the legislature, Sen. East always put the interests of the people of his region above his own. He will be sorely missed by his family, constituents and colleagues.”
Update: East co-chaired the budget committee that oversaw spending on environmental and economic resources as well as the Agriculture and Environment policy committee. He was worked on criminal justice legislation.
"Most of us in the General Assembly will remember Don for his ability to bring laughter into an environment where humor is all-too-often in short supply," House Speaker Thom Tillis said in an e-mail. "It was this ability that endeared him to so many leaders and constituents throughout the state. This is a sad day for our state, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family during this very difficult time.”
East's father was a police officer killed in the line of duty said Sen. Stan Bingham, R-Davidson, one of the lawmakers closes to East. That made it all the more impressive, Bingham said, when East decided to become a police officer himself.
"He walked the walk," Bingham said.
The two shared a bond over their outspoken sense of humor and love of fast cars. A story of one of their rides together garnered some attention for East that he would rather have gone without.
"He was kind of upset with me about that," Bingham laughed.
In addition to his sense of humor, colleagues say East's work ethic and the zeal with which he represented his district would be well remembered.
"If he told you something, you could count on it," Bigham said.
Others also remembered him as dedicated to his constituents.
“I am saddened to learn of the passing of Senator Don East," Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton said Monday. "I served with him in the Senate for many years. He was always caring and attentive to the needs of those he represented. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Update: Gov. Bev Perdue has ordered state flags to fly at half staff in mourning for East.
"Flags should be returned to full staff at sunset on Tuesday, October 23," according to a notice from Perdue's office.