Commentary

Christensen: Influential Tar Heels who died in 2013

rchristensen@newsobserver.comDecember 24, 2013 

North Carolina said goodbye to leaders in government and politics in 2013 – trailblazers who included a civil rights leader, a governor, a lobbyist and a man who helped build the Republican party.

Here is a look at 20 Tar Heels who died this year.

Zeb Alley, the super lobbyist, died in July at age 84. When people gathered for his memorial, they all couldn’t fit into the room. They laughed as people retold his jokes, remembered him as a Korean War hero, and most of all recognized that a Raleigh institution had passed. He was Gov. Jim Hunt’s legal counsel in the early 1980s, and he was rated the most effective lobbyist for 16 straight years. And he was a spirit.

Juanita Baker, who died in June at age 78, was a trailblazer as both a woman and as an African-American. She was superintendent of Raleigh Correctional Center for Women and later chair of the state Parole Commission. Her husband was Wake County Sheriff John Baker, a former NFL football star.

Julius Chambers, who died in August at age 76, seemed like a quiet force of nature, but through sheer intelligence, courage and hard work, he used the court system to challenge a system that meant second status citizenship for many of North Carolina’s residents. Whether arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court or dodging bombs thrown by extremists at his home, his office, his car and his father’s shop, or heading N.C. Central, Chambers is likely to be remembered as one of North Carolina’s 20th century giants.

Joe Doster, as a reporter and editor for The Winston-Salem Journal and The Sentinel, was one of the wisest Tar Heel newsmen. He was a fearless reporter who was part of a team that won the Pulitzer prize in 1970 for environmental reporting. He died at age 85.

Grace Furman died in March at age 105. She was a reminder of an earlier age of politics. Miss Grace went to work for Kerr Scott when he was agriculture commissioner in 1942. She later worked for him when he was elected governor in 1948 and went to Washington when he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1954. She was still sharp when she died, although her hearing was not what it once was.

Former Wake County Superior Court Judge George R. Greene died in March at 82. Greene was the first African-American judge elected in Wake County. He was also a civil rights attorney representing the lunch counter protesters in the early ’60s.

Former Scotland Neck Mayor Ferd Harrison died in June at 86. Before Harrison was elected, the presidents of the National League of Cities were mayors of cities such as Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. No one had ever headed the organization from a place as small as Scotland Neck, with a population just over 2,000. But Harrison did, and he was soon taking meetings in the White House.

Jack Hawke of Zebulon, who died in November at age 72, helped build the modern Republican Party. He was involved in all aspects of politics: as a congressional candidate, campaign manager, consultant and head of a think tank. He played critical roles in electing both Pat McCrory and Jim Martin governor.

Bill Henderson of Raleigh, who died in September at age 90, wore many hats. He was the state’s chief economic development officer under Govs. Luther Hodges and Terry Sanford. He was president of the N.C. Jaycees, a political fundraiser for candidates such as Lt. Gov. Jimmy Green, and a real estate developer for big projects such as Bald Head Island and Kildaire Farms in Cary. As a first lieutenant in the Marines in World War II, he earned a Bronze Star while leading his men during the bloody assault on Iwo Jima.

Wallace Hyde of Raleigh died in January at age 89. Hyde started as a football coach and later became a successful businessman. He became particularly known as a major political fundraiser, helping North Carolina Democrats such as Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt and national Democrats such as Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale and Al Gore. His wife, Jeanette, also a major fundraiser, was a U.S. ambassador to Barbados.

John Ingram of Myrtle Beach, S.C., died in January at age 83. The feisty populist insurance commissioner was known for fighting insurance rates while serving from 1973-85. He also pulled one of the biggest upsets in recent North Carolina history, when he defeated Luther Hodges Jr. to capture the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1978, only to lose to Republican Sen. Jesse Helms that fall.

Bill Johnson of Lillington died in January at age 92. He was one of the first chairmen of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, served as revenue secretary for Gov. Terry Sanford, and was a Superior Court judge. Both Sanford and former UNC President Bill Friday relied on Johnson as a friend and adviser. He spent his life trying to make the UNC system accessible to North Carolina’s young people. He practiced law until the day he died.

Former Gov. Jim Holshouser of Southern Pines died in June at age 78. The first Republican governor of the state in the 20th century, he was highly regarded as a leader in education, the environment and rural health care. He also had a long, productive life as a civic leader after his governorship.

Roy Parker of Fayetteville died in April at age 83. He was retired founding editor of The Fayetteville Times. He also was a former chief political writer for The News & Observer. For those of us who write about North Carolina politics, Parker was the gold standard.

Helen Powers of Asheville died in November at age 88. Gov. Jim Martin appointed Powers, a career banker, as the state’s first female revenue secretary, a post she held for more than five years. Powers oversaw the design and opening of the $36 million Department of Revenue Building. She was active in civic affairs, and in Asheville was particularly involved in efforts to improve health services for needy women.

Former state Sen. Jean Preston of Emerald Isle died in January at age 77. A former teacher and principal, she was a voice for education within the Republican caucus. She was elected to the state House in 1992 and to the Senate in 2006 before retiring in 2012.

Former state Rep. Paul Pulley of Beaufort was a leading progressive in the legislature from 1979 until 1986 where he represented Durham County. He was also a lawyer and lobbyist for the trial lawyers and the state community college system, among others. He was 77 when he died in October.

Former House Speaker Jim Ramsey of Roxboro died in May at age 81. An attorney, Ramsey served in the House from 1963-74, capping his legislative career with one term as House speaker.

Former state Sen. Bob Warren of Benson died in May at age 84. A former school principal, Warren probably lost his Senate seat in 1988 because of a backlash over his sponsorship of the state seat belt law. But the law may have saved thousands of lives. Warren was a friend and a mentor. I will miss his uncommon common sense.

Former Raleigh City Manager L.P. Zachary died in June at age 91. He guided the city during a period of high growth from 1973-83. Zachary had the combination of professional competence and small-town charm that enabled him to thrive during a period of political turbulence in city politics.

Christensen: 919-829-4532 or rchristensen@newsobserver.com

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