These 26 North Carolinians left us in the past year

From top left: Al Adams, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Paul Hardin, Ida Friday. From bottom left: Harold Webb, John Carrington, Ruth Samuelson, Banks Talley.
From top left: Al Adams, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Paul Hardin, Ida Friday. From bottom left: Harold Webb, John Carrington, Ruth Samuelson, Banks Talley.

Here are some of the figures from North Carolina public life who left us during the past year.

Al Adams, 85, a longtime progressive leader from Raleigh, died in March. Adams served five terms in the state House, rising to Appropriations Committee chairman. He was proudest of his effort to keep public access to North Carolina beaches. He was instrumental in merging the Raleigh-Wake County school systems and the separate white and black library systems, and integrating the Wake County Bar Association. He was a leader in restoring central Raleigh neighborhoods like Cameron Park, and was a champion of the arts. He was a former naval officer and served as a captain in the Naval Reserve.

Mark Binker, a veteran Raleigh journalist who was widely respected by both Democrats and Republicans for his fairness, died unexpectedly in April at age 43. Binker was especially adept at explaining complicated issues. He had covered state politics for 12 years for several news organizations, most recently working for WRAL-TV before joining the NC Insider.

Kathryn Stripling Byer is the former poet laureate of North Carolina (2005-2009). Byer, who died in June at age 72, published six books of her work, which often dealt with the struggles of North Carolina mountain people, particularly women. The Cullowhee resident was the first woman to hold the post.

A.P. Carlton, a Raleigh attorney was the first chairman of the American Bar Association from North Carolina since former Sen. Willis Smith. As ABA chairman, Carlton pushed for judicial reform. Carlton, who died in May at age 69, was also a law partner to former governors Terry Sanford, Jim Holshouser and current NC Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin. He served in the Air Force.

John Carrington, a Raleigh businessman and state senator, long active in Republican politics, died in March at age 82. A former Army paratrooper during the Korean War, Carrington made a fortune selling spy and police gear. But he eventually ran afoul of the law by selling equipment to China and was fined $850,000. Her served in the Senate from 1994-2005, after failing to win higher office.

Kay Carrington, the former chair of the Wake County Republican Party, died in October at age 86. She was the former spouse of John Carrington.

Dennis Ducker, who served as assistant state treasurer, died in late December 2016 at age 70. Ducker was responsible for overseeing the retirement fund for all state employees before his own retirement.

Ida Friday, the first lady of the UNC system for 30 years, died in February at age 97. Her husband, William C. Friday, was among the best-known education leaders in the country. Ida Friday was active in women’s issues, social justice, and historic preservation.

Paul Hardin, former chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill, died in July at age 86. Hardin served as president of Wofford College, Southern Methodist University, and Drew University before returning to his home state. He was forced out of SMU when he tried to clean up the football program – which later received the NCAA’s “death penalty.” In the 1960s as a Duke law professor, Hardin supported efforts to integrate facilities in Durham. He served as an Army counterintelligence officer.

Bob Havely, a veteran Democratic policy consultant, died in August at age 65. Havely worked in President Jimmy Carter’s White House as a domestic policy adviser. He also worked for nearly every major North Carolina Democrat including former Gov. Jim Hunt. He was also heavily involved in advising colleges and universities.

Edward Shelton Holmes of Pittsboro died at age 87 in September. As a state lawmaker who served as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee in the 1970s, he was a major supporter of the state university system, Central Carolina Community College, and legal aid. Holmes, an attorney, was heavily involved in his community including as president of the Governor’s Committee on Low Income Housing and president of NC Legal Aid. He served in Korea in the Army.

Ralph Hunt, a former state senator from Durham, died in May at age 85. During his five terms (1985-93), Hunt served as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and as majority whip. Hunt also served 12 years on the Durham City Council and started a chain of convenience stores.

Elvin Jackson, a long-time Democratic operative and ace poker player, was former U.S. Rep. Bill Hefner’s right-hand man. Jackson, who was 79 when he died in May, was Moore County Democratic Party chairman. In retirement he became a national class poker player participating in major tournaments.

Sam Johnson, a Raleigh attorney, died in October at age 90. He probably knew more about the legislature than anybody, having served as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, legal counsel to Lt. Gov. Jimmy Green, and as the highest ranking lobbyist.

Roland Leary, the former Durham County sheriff, died in March at age 83. Leary started his law enforcement career chasing bootleggers for the Durham County Alcohol Beverage Control Board before being elected sheriff in 1982 – a post he held for a decade. He served in the Coast Guard.

Corey Lowenstein of Raleigh died in December at age 49. If you followed politics in these pages then you know Corey’s work. We were often a journalistic team – I wrote the words, while Corey supplied the photographs. Her photos illustrated my stories, were included in my book and grace my home.

John Nichols, an Eastern North Carolina state representative, served four terms in the state legislature in the 1990s at the time of a rising Republican tide in state politics. He died in July at age 72. Among other things, Nichols was a strong advocate for making other in-state schools play East Carolina University.

Elbert Peters died in February at age 88. Peters, a Marine Corps veteran, worked for the Division of Motor Vehicles from 1957 until 1981, the last four years as commissioner. After his retirement, Peters spent 20 years as president of the NC Trucking Association.

J. Dickson Phillips Jr., a former federal judge, died in August at age 94. Phillips served 10 years as dean of the UNC law school before being appointed by President Carter in 1978 to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where he helped shape major decisions on voting rights, redistricting, and sex discrimination. During World War II, he was a paratrooper who served in three European campaigns.

Elmer Puryear, a North Carolina historian, died at age 96 in February. Puryear was a dedicated but tough teacher at Campbell University and was the author of two noteworthy books: “Democratic Party Dissension in N.C., 1928-1936” and “Graham A. Barden, Conservative Carolina Congressman.” Puryear served in the Navy during World War II.

Ruth Samuelson, a former state representative, died in January at age 57. Samuelson was a Republican who forged friendships on both sides of the aisles. She was both a strong abortion opponent and an environmentalist; endorsed by the National Rifle Association and the Sierra Club. She served as a Mecklenburg County commissioner before her election to the legislature.

Leroy “Lee” Settle, the state Senate reading clerk from Pinehurst, died on Christmas 2016 at age 80. He attended Howard University and served in the Army. He started working in the Senate clerk’s office in 2011.

Bob Spearman, a Raleigh attorney, died in December at age 74. He is best known for leading the legal battle in the Leandro case to require the state to meet its constitutional requirements to provide a sound and basic education for all school children. Spearman, a graduate of Yale Law School and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, helping him write his opinion in the Pentagon Papers case. Spearman served as chairman of the State Board of Elections from 1981-85.

Banks Talley of Raleigh, who died in October at age 90, was a cultural force. As vice chancellor of NC State, he helped create the Friends of the College subscription series, and was vital to the creation of the music and theater departments at NCSU, the Thompson Theater, the Craft Center, and the new Gregg Museum.

Aubrey Granville Tolley, a state psychiatrist who spent his life working to improve mental health in North Carolina, held many posts including director of Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh. Tolley, who died in February at age 92, served in the Navy during World War II.

Harold Webb, who died in December at age 92, wore many hats. He was a Tuskegee Airman in World War II, a school teacher, a civil rights leader, the state’s first black personnel director in 1977, and a Wake County commissioner from 2003 until 2010.

Rob Christensen: 919-829-4532; robc@newsobserver.com