John Randolph Ingram, former N.C. insurance commissioner, dies at age 83

relder@newsobserver.comJanuary 7, 2013 

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A 1978 photo shows Insurance Commissiner John Ingram is flanked by members of his family as he talks to reporters after failing to unseat Republican Senator Jesse Helms despite the Democrats 3-1 edge in registered voters.

1978 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

— Former state insurance commissioner John Randolph Ingram, a well-known and often controversial figure in North Carolina politics throughout the 1970s and 1980s, died of heart failure Sunday evening at his home in Myrtle Beach.

Ingram, 83, served 12 years in the commissioner’s office after a successful 1972 campaign urging reform of the insurance industry. It was a theme he returned to often during his more than two decades in politics and public life, which included a losing campaign against U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms.

“No one campaigned stronger as a populist than John,” said Rufus Edmisten, who was state attorney general during Ingram’s time in government.

“It’s sad news. He was one of the last true characters in state politics.”

Ingram was born on June 12, 1929, in Greensboro and grew up in Asheboro. His father, two-term state Sen. Henry L. Ingram, died when he was 13.

He attended UNC-Chapel Hill, earning Phi Beta Kappa honors as an undergraduate and a 1954 law degree. From 1955 to 1958, Ingram served as a member of the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps.

He practiced law in Asheboro for more than a decade before running successfully as a Democrat for the state House in 1970, representing what was previously considered a Republican stronghold.

His signature issue – insurance reform – was born during that campaign. He wanted to lower insurance rates, particularly for young and high-risk drivers.

“Politics, as I say, was difficult in that district, and so it looked like to me that something needed to be done in insurance,” he told The News and Observer during a 1973 interview. “It just sort of became a cause with me.”

During his two-year legislative term, Ingram authored bills giving 18 year olds the right to vote and establishing a bond referendum for the N.C. Zoo.

As insurance commissioner, Ingram was frustrated in his efforts to enact reform. His administration lost 32 of 33 major court cases, and he was criticized for spending too little time at work in the state capital.

Other controversies surrounded his time in office. Some involved sudden and frequent dismissals of employees, conflicts with the General Assembly and allegations that he was unduly preoccupied with the development of his family’s condominium project in Myrtle Beach.

He also gained a reputation for odd behavior, including holding important meetings in parking lots to avoid purported eavesdroppers and casually throwing out important state documents. Ingram defended his actions, maintaining that such allegations were politically motivated.

In 1978, Ingram became the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, losing to incumbent Helms. Two years later, he underwent open-heart surgery at Duke University Medical Center.

Ingram ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for governor in 1984, as his final term as insurance commissioner was coming to an end. He also ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination to U.S. Senate in 1986 and 1990.

Ingram is survived by his wife, Virginia Brown Ingram, three daughters and a son.

Funeral services are set for 10 a.m. Wednesday at First Presbyterian Church in Myrtle Beach. Burial will be in Asheboro’s Oaklawn Cemetery.

Elder: 919-829-4528

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