Hundreds attend funeral for Gov. Bob Scott
Posted January 27, 2009 1:31 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT
MEBANE, N.C. — Relatives of former Gov. Bob Scott told mourners at his funeral Tuesday that he loved North Carolina like he loved his family and used that commitment as he led the state through a tumultuous era of social unrest.
Several hundred people attended Scott's funeral at the same Alamance County church where he was baptized, married his third-grade sweetheart, served as a deacon and taught Sunday school. Three former governors, current Gov. Beverly Perdue and others listened as his family and pastor described a man who fought for equal rights, took on Big Tobacco – and missed fishing.
"Robert has simply gone on to another adventure," Rev. Ray Mims told the audience, noting that Scott's family roots in the Haw River area dated to the 1700s. "Robert has done what he came to do. He hadn't fished in a long time. He was tired. He was ready to go home."
Scott, a Korean War veteran who was governor from 1969 to 1973, died Friday after a bout of declining health. He was 79.
His grandson, Scott Sutton, said his grandfather's life should inspire others to give to their community and state.
"His love and compassion for the state and its people were extensions of love of his family," Sutton said.
Scott faced tough choices on integration and public education during his tenure, and helped push through the state's first retail tax on cigarettes – tobacco was still a major part of the North Carolina economy at the time – to help finance the first public kindergartens in the state.
"He did not shy away from controversy, despite living in very tumultuous times," Sutton said. "He did not let cowardly deeds, like someone burning a cross in his front yard, deter him from doing what he knew was the right thing to do."
He and his wife, Jessie Rae Scott, were lead supporters of an equal rights amendment in North Carolina in the 1970s. He also served as president of the state community college system from 1983 to 1994.
Scott's widow got up unexpectedly during the funeral and thanked friends and family, mentioning Perdue and the other former governors who attended. She offered some lighthearted advice to Perdue, who was sworn this month as North Carolina's first female governor.
"They'll take you in one day," Scott said amid laughter in the sanctuary. "So do behave."
Mourners braved the rain as Scott's casket, draped in a North Carolina flag, was pulled by members of the Highway Patrol to a cemetery across the street from Hawfields Presbyterian Church, where Scott still tried to go on Sundays even when governor. They were led by a riderless horse – a symbol of the death of a chief executive.
Two of the horses in the caisson also pulled former President Ronald Reagan's casket during his 2004 funeral.
A lone bag piper played in the church cemetery, reflective of Scott's Scottish heritage. A Korean War veteran handed an American flag to his wife, and Perdue handed her the state flag and spoke with the couple's four daughters.
Former Gov. Mike Easley, who served two terms before Perdue, said after the service that Scott was never afraid to get into the thick of a political controversy. From dealing with racial unrest while governor to helping find government savings when Easley created a panel earlier this decade during the last state budget crisis.
"We've lost a friend, but everybody in North Carolina has lost a friend," Easley said. "He left behind some great things for everybody in North Carolina, and we ought to be thinking about those."