Local News

North Carolina Says Goodbye to a Legendary Leader

Posted April 21, 1998 7:00 a.m. EDT

— Friends and family of Terry Sanford, along with much of North Carolina, paid one last tribute to a legendary leader. Sanford was hailed and remembered as a man who helped shape the state he loved so much.

The former governor, senator and president of Duke University was laid to rest Tuesday at the University's Chapel. Thousands of people attended his funeral service as Sanford was hailed as a hero and a visionary of the New South by several dignitaries.

Sanford died Saturday at age 80 of inoperable cancer of the esophagus.

``Terry Sanford was my hero,'' Gov. Jim Hunt told the crowd assembled for his funeral. ``He was my hero because of what he did, but also because of the way he did it. ... He was constantly looking for ways to improve things...

``In fact, I suspect that by now he almost certainly has had his orientation session with the Lord, and it was not a one-way conversation,'' the governor said.

Sanford, who also served as Duke University's president from 1969-1985, will be buried inside a Duke Chapel crypt. A U.S. Army honor guard carried his flag-draped coffin down the stairs from the chapel to the crypt just after 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Hunt credited Sanford with establishing Research Triangle Park, overhauling the state's education system and leading the state during a time of turmoil.

``You cannot imagine North Carolina without Terry Sanford,'' Hunt said. ``For all that North Carolina has become and will be, Terry, we thank you.''

Among the leaders who attended the service were former Republican Govs. Jim Holshouser and Jim Martin, former Democratic Gov. Bob Scott, Sens. Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth, White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and much of North Carolina's congressional delegation.

State Rep. Dan Blue, D-Wake, former speaker of the state House of Representatives, recalled that while Sanford was pioneering efforts to heal the racial divide in North Carolina in the 1960s, other Southern governors were digging in their heels against integration.

Sanford, he said, boldly improved education by establishing a statewide system of community colleges and increasing teacher pay, and also opened a statewide forum on racial issues.

He praised Sanford's ability to look beyond the racial and economic issues of that time ``and see a gate of opportunity for all North Carolinians, for all Southerners, for all Americans.''

``Terry Sanford was a man who was at least three generations ahead in his vision of my generation,'' Blue said.

In remarks prepared for the main eulogy, Thomas Langford, Duke provost emeritus and former divinity School dean, called Sanford ``a devoted son, a family man, a proud Methodist and a committed North Carolinian.''

``Terry's achievements have been immense. A faithful son of North Carolina, he led the state to educational improvement, more racial openness, leadership in the arts and, in all, increased our sense of who we are and what we might become,'' he said.

As he walked into Duke Chapel to attend the service, Vernon Jordan, President Clinton's counsel, recalled his friendship with Sanford.

``He was my friend. He was a great Southerner. He was at the very cutting edge of the new South,'' Jordan said. ``By my standards, he was the ultimate Southern gentleman.''

On Tuesday, an 82nd Airborne Division honor guard from Fort Bragg carried the former World War II paratrooper's casket into Duke Chapel, where it remained overnight. More than 1,000 mourners filed down the aisle of the gothic chapel over three hours Tuesday evening to visit with his family.

While Sanford's contributions to arts, education and race relations have been praised in the days after his death, former constituents said it was the little things they will most remember.

``He had so much class. He always returned my phone calls and he always wrote back to me following my letters. Some politicians could learn from him today,'' said Elsie Averitt of Fayetteville, who traveled to Durham to pay her last respects to Sanford.

Averitt, a retired telephone company employee, remembered attending Sanford's gubernatorial campaign announcement in 1960 in downtown Fayetteville, where Sanford was an attorney.

``He and President Kennedy were the first people I was eligible to vote for,'' Averitt said. ``There are very few people in my life that made the impact that (Sanford) did.''

Others, like Elmer and Minnie Cummings of Wilson, made the trip as their tribute to Sanford's contributions to the state's quality of life.

``Terry Sanford was the foremost governor of North Carolina,'' said Elmer Cummings, a retired schoolteacher. ``Had it not been for Terry Sanford, we wouldn't have the education system that we have today.''

Sanford served as governor from 1961 to 1965 and was a U.S. senator from 1987 to 1993. For 16 years in between he was president of Duke.

He also ran unsuccessful presidential campaigns in 1972 and 1976.

At the time of his death, Sanford was lobbying for a performing arts center near Research Triangle Park that could one day rival New York's Lincoln Center.

From staff and wire reports.,David Crabtree,Lori Foushee