2012 saw passing of many Tar Heel greats

State lawmakers, TV legend among those we lost in 2012

rchristensen@newsobserver.comDecember 24, 2012 

With the drawing to a close of 2012, it’s time to remember some of the people in North Carolina public life who left us this year. Here are a few.

Bob Bradshaw helped build the modern Republican Party in North Carolina. The deep-voiced, big-time Charlotte attorney was a key strategist for Gov. Jim Martin, Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot and U.S. Rep. Alex McMillan. Martin once called him “a genius” in politics. He served as state Republican Party chairman in 1985, helping pull together warring business and New Right factions. The Raleigh native who grew up in Eastern North Carolina died in January at age 78.

Don East was a retired Winston-Salem police officer who was the son of a police officer. That may help explain why East hated red-light cameras but loved muscle cars. But the seven-term state senator backpedaled from a story told by a colleague on the Senate floor last year of him careening down a Surry County road at 145 mph in a souped-up Dodge Charger. Not sure anybody believed his denial. East, who lived in Pilot Mountain, died in October at age 67.

So much has been written about Bill Friday, the former University of North Carolina president, that it is hard to add anything. But Friday, who died in October at age 92 in Chapel Hill, was a mentor and role model to several generations of North Carolinians. Newcomers may have a hard time understanding Friday’s influence, but he was sort of the state’s wise and kind uncle.

Stewart Fulbright, the first dean of the school of business at N.C. Central University, died in January at the age of 92. He made his mark early in life as one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, one of 1,000 men trained in Tuskegee, Ala., as the first black pilots, navigators and bombardiers during World War II.

It might seem odd to include Andy Griffith in a list of people who influence public life in North Carolina, but the actor often appeared in TV ads to help elect Democrats and sometimes showed up to participate in inaugural events. Griffith died in July at age 86.

John Henley, a former state Senator from Hope Mills, left his fingerprints all over North Carolina in the form of health care facilities. Henley, a courtly pharmacist, served four terms in the state House and six terms in the state Senate, including a stint as Senate president pro tem from 1975-78. He was instrumental in the creation of the UNC Department of Family Medicine in Chapel Hill, the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, and the Area Health Education Center Programs. He was particularly interested in finding ways to make sure that rural areas had doctors. He died in March at age 90.

When Ed Jones, a veteran of the 82nd Airborne, joined the State Highway Patrol in 1975, he was one of only three black troopers. He would rise to become First Sergeant during his 30-year career, and then go on to become police chief and then mayor of Enfield. In 2005, he was appointed to the state House, later moving to the state Senate, where he was still serving when he died in December at age 62. He was known for his bow ties and his advocacy for education and law enforcement.

Charlie Rose was the father of televised U.S. House sessions, a computer whiz back in the 1980s, and the man who brought Buckminster Fuller, Alvin Toffler and Carl Sagan to Capitol Hill to discuss the future. He was friends with the Dalai Lama, a protégé of Gov. Terry Sanford, and chairman of the powerful House Administration Committee in the early 1990s. He wanted to be House speaker but never made it. The 12-term congressman, who retired in 1996, died in September in Alabama at age 73.

Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans was born into the Duke family that founded the tobacco fortune, the university, the power company and the foundation. She spent her life devoting her energies to philanthropy, education and civil rights. She was close to some of the major figures in the state, such as Bill Friday and Terry Sanford. She was instrumental in the early days in getting UNC School of the Arts off the ground, and her family foundation created the Mary Duke Biddle Gallery for the Blind at the N.C. Museum of Art. Among her many roles was mayor pro tem of Durham. She was 91 when she died in January in Durham.

The area between Raleigh and Durham was just fields and forests when George Simpson Jr. was hired in 1956 to become director of the Research Triangle Committee. The idea of a research park would become an international success, eventually attracting 170 companies with 39,000 employees. But by that time, Simpson had long moved on to become chancellor of Georgia’s university system. Simpson died in Raleigh in December at age 91

Bill Snider was one of the great Tar Heel newspapermen of his era. As editor of The Greensboro News & Record, he dealt with the great issues of the day, such as school integration – and his forward-looking views resulted in a cross burned in his yard and a brick thrown through his window. He also wrote books about the university in Chapel Hill and the famed 1984 Senate race between Republican Jesse Helms and Democrat Jim Hunt. He once worked as aide to Govs. Kerr Scott and Greg Cherry. He died in Greensboro in January at age 91.

One of the forces behind the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh was former state Rep. Lura Tally of Fayetteville. During her five terms in the House and six terms in the Senate, she was a spokeswoman for women’s rights, the environment, education and public safety. At the time of her retirement in 1994, she was the longest serving female legislator in state history. She mentored a generation of Democratic women, including Bev Perdue and Elaine Marshall. She died in August at age 90.

If four-term Gov. Jim Hunt was the education governor, then Betty Owen was his chief education adviser. She served as Hunt’s senior policy adviser on educational matters during his first two terms, playing a role in the creation of the N.C. School of Science and Math and the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching. When Hunt wanted to create a forum for debating key issues, he named Owen as executive director of the Emerging Issues Forum, a post she held from 1987-2001. Owen died in August at age 77 in Pittsboro.

Roy Wilder Jr. loved stories about Southern food, especially chitlins; moonshine; and politicians. He worked as a political consultant in the gubernatorial campaigns of Kerr Scott in 1948 and Terry Sanford in 1960. He published a book of Southernisms called “You All Spoken Here.” Wilder died in March in Nashville, N.C., at age 97.

Christensen: 919-829-4532

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