Politics & Government

‘Courageous and kind’: US House colleagues pay tribute to Walter Jones

NC Gov. Roy Cooper talks about the passing of U.S. Rep. Walter Jones Jr. and a special election for his replacement

NC Gov. Roy Cooper talked about the passing of U.S. Rep. Walter Jones Jr. and plans for a special election for his replacement during a press conference to announce the appointment of Cheri Beasley as chief justice Tuesday, Feb 12., 2019.
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NC Gov. Roy Cooper talked about the passing of U.S. Rep. Walter Jones Jr. and plans for a special election for his replacement during a press conference to announce the appointment of Cheri Beasley as chief justice Tuesday, Feb 12., 2019.

Hailed as courageous and kind, longtime U.S. Rep. Walter Jones was honored by his former colleagues Wednesday on the floor of the U.S. House, one day before his funeral in Greenville.

Jones died Feb. 10, his 76th birthday. He served in the House since 1995, representing North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District. The district includes much of Eastern North Carolina, covering part of Pitt County and all of 16 other counties.

“A treasured colleague, a conscientious public servant and a personal friend to many throughout this chamber,” said Rep. David Price, a North Carolina Democrat, in remarks on the House floor.

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Jones’ funeral will be held at St. Peter Catholic Church in Greenville at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. The funeral is open to the public. The House observed a moment of silence in Jones’ honor Wednesday.

Price was surrounded by 10 other members of the North Carolina delegation. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a friend of Jones’ for more than 40 years, presided over the House during the tribute from the speaker’s chair.

Price noted that he and Jones had first met while working for the presidential campaign of Democrat Jimmy Carter. Jones, who served five terms in the N.C. House as a Democrat, changed parties before the 1994 election.

“Walter went on to chart a different course politically, a course that was uniquely his own. In fact, he found himself frequently at odds with, if not one party, then the other,” Price said.

A strong early supporter of the war in Iraq who came to regret his vote, Jones often voted against his party. He was strongly opposed to money in politics and increasing the national debt. A man of deep faith, Jones was staunchly pro-life.

“He stood out in an age in which sincerity is sometimes in short supply in our nation’s politics, earning respect and admiration on both sides of the aisle,” Price said.

Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, spoke in tribute as well. Jones had requested that Massie memorialize him on the floor, said Rep. Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican. Massie said he met with Jones in the final week of his life and enjoyed a lengthy conversation.

“He was both courageous and kind,” Massie said, citing Jones’ willingness to publicly admit he was wrong as in his Iraq War vote.

Jones became famous for writing letters to the families of troops killed in U.S. wars in the Middle East, a small atonement, he felt, for his war vote. Jones wrote 11,266 letters.

“That’s the final number of letters Walter Jones personally wrote,” Massie said. “Did he write those letters to prepare him for the next election? No. He wrote those letters to prepare him for this day when he would be judged at the gates of heaven.”

He said in a Washington that too frequently kisses up and punches down, Jones “would kiss down and punch up. He was a statesman and a true Southern gentlemen, who followed his heart while fighting for his constituents.”

Massie said he would think of Jones before casting each vote in Congress and urged colleagues to do the same.

Jones was elected to 13 full terms, the same as his father, Walter B. Jones Sr., a Democrat who represented Eastern North Carolina from 1966 until his death in 1992. Jones Sr. won a special election to fill a seat before winning election to 13 full terms. Like his son, Jones Sr. died while serving in office.

“It’s hard to imagine Congress without a Jones,” said Rep. David Rouzer, a North Carolina Republican.

The tribute to Jones came after the House voted to remove U.S. forces from hostilities in Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress. Jones was a co-sponsor of the legislation and of previous attempts.

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Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or bmurphy@mcclatchydc.com.
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