State News

Hundreds of mourners pay tribute to Long

Posted February 4, 2009 5:45 p.m. EST

— Hundreds of people turned out Wednesday to pay tribute to former state insurance commissioner Jim Long, who died this week after suffering a stroke.

Visitors at the Brown-Wynne Funeral Home in Raleigh wore red ties in memory of the longtime public servant, known for always wearing red ties as much as he was for fighting to keep insurance rates among the lowest in the country.

"It's hard to find genuine people like Jim Long," said former state auditor Ralph Campbell. "He was down to earth. You knew where he was coming from, and he was a good public servant for the great state of North Carolina."

During his six terms 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 fifth-lowest auto insurance rates in the U.S., according to the department.

"He had done his official elected service – never got beat, I don't think it was ever close," said longtime friend Jack Lewis. "But what he would have done for us on a purely voluntary basis, now, I think, would have been remarkable, and I can't imagine the magnitude of the loss we shall suffer in the future."

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.

He is survived by his wife, Peg O'Connell, two children and five grandchildren.

A public memorial is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday at Hayes Barton Baptist Church in Raleigh. His funeral will be at 2 p.m. Friday at The Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter in Burlington.