Long remembered during memorial service
Posted February 5, 2009 1:43 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. — Tributes poured out Thursday during a memorial service for former state insurance commissioner Jim Long, who died Monday after suffering a stroke.
An afternoon memorial service at Hayes Barton Baptist Church drew scores of friends and colleagues, who recalled Long's commitment to public service and sense of humor.
"He loved protecting consumers. He wanted to do his part so North Carolina would remain a good place," said Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, who served as Long's assistant. "He loved a good laugh, a good story and a good time – sometimes all at once."
Gov. Beverly Perdue said Long relished the chance to take on "the big dogs" of the insurance industry to help North Carolina consumers. As a politician, she said, she envied his ability to deliver insurance rebate checks to voters.
"North Carolina, Jim Long, is so much better off because of your service, your life and your dedication to the people of this great state," Perdue said.
During his 24 years regulating the insurance industry in the state, Long would routinely cut increases requested by the North Carolina Rate Bureau, the agency representing insurance companies. The Department of Insurance estimated he saved consumers $4.2 billion in auto insurance premiums alone during his tenure.
North Carolina has the seventh-lowest auto insurance rates in the U.S., Goodwin said, noting Long would be angry if that fact wasn't mentioned at his memorial service.
"The only states with lower rates are states where you have to call ahead to have an accident," Goodwin quoted Long as always saying.
Long, 68, also served as the state's fire marshal, and his flag-draped casket was carried to the church on an antique fire engine. An honor guard of firefighters carried the casket into the church, and his fire marshal's hat sat next to the casket in front of the church.
His wife and son thanked those who came to the memorial service and who stopped at a Wednesday night visitation, and they noted the many people who thought to wear a piece of red clothing in honor of Long's trademark red ties.
"While it's horrible that Jim was taken from us much too soon, I want you all to know that Jim Long enjoyed every single day of his life," said his wife, Peg O'Connell. "He loved his family. He loved his job. He loved a good fight for the people of North Carolina."
O'Connell said she was grateful that her husband was celebrated in the months leading up to his retirement and got a chance to hear from people how his work had improved their lives.
"He never really got how great he was (before that)," she said. "He simply viewed himself as a public servant and saw his accomplishments as simply doing his job."
James Long Jr. lifted the somber tone of the service by recalling the numerous practical jokes his father played, such as mailing kitschy salt and pepper shakers to relatives, and details like how he used to rinse and reuse plastic zipper bags to save money.
Jim Long suffered a stroke on Jan. 21 while on his way to a legislative committee hearing about coastal homeowners insurance. Although he had retired two weeks earlier, he wanted to offer his experience to those at the hearing.
He was taken to Rex Hospital, where he lapsed into a coma and never regained consciousness.
In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by his daughter, Rebecca, and five grandchildren.
His funeral was scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday at The Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter in Burlington. Visitation will be at the church, beginning at 10 a.m.