Local News

Raleigh Mother Happy Helms Is Leaving

Posted Updated
Switch to classic wral.com

RALEIGH — Not everyone is disappointed about Sen. Jesse Helms' decision to not run for re-election. His conservative stance on homosexuality and funding for AIDS research has made him the target of criticism for many, and one woman turned her personal struggle with Helms into a national crusade for tolerance.

In 1994, 72-year-old Patsy Clarke's son, Mark, died of AIDS. She wrote the senator asking him to be more compassionate.

"He referred to gay people as exhibiting disgusting behavior, revolting, disgusting behavior," said Clarke.

For Clarke, a lifelong Republican and former Helms supporter, these were fighting words.

"AIDS is not a disgrace, it's a tragedy. I feel strongly about that," said Clarke.

Clarke says the letter she got in return was not filled with compassion, but condemnation.

"He implied that people who died of AIDS deserve what they get. I couldn't believe he meant that," said Clarke.

Clarke and her friend, Eloise Vaughn, whose son also died of AIDS, joined forces to start Mothers Against Jesse in Congress (MAJIC). Even though he was re-elected in 1996, Clarke says the organization made a difference.

"I really could sit here today and say thank you, Senator Helms, for making me aware of what I don't believe, making me reconsider, come to a new understanding of what I do believe," said Clarke.

Clarke and Vaughn wrote a book about their struggle called "Keep Singing." The women say they will keep fighting long after Helms leaves the Senate floor.

"Everything will change one way or another. I'd like to think things will change in the direction of compassion and understanding, that's my big concern, but we'll have to wait and see," said Clarke.