A vase of white flowers sat between seats 69 and 70 of the House of Representatives on Monday night – a row once occupied by the late Paul Luebke, a longtime Democratic representative from Durham County.
Luebke died last October and on Monday night his colleagues honored his memory. Even before the session began, Luebke’s granddaughter, Adele Rose Derello-Luebke, was wandering the floor passing out flowers to representatives.
Rep. Phil Lehman, a Durham Democrat, was appointed to fill Luebke’s seat in November. The two were friends, and since being appointed to fill the seat said he has been “enormously gratified” to hear testimonials from members.
“I have repeatedly heard about how hard-working Paul was, how he was the go-to guy for analyzing difficult bills, how he helped mentor young members,” Lehman said. “Even those who usually disagreed with Paul – and there were many of those – they said they admired that he always stood up for what he believed in.”
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Rep. Graig Meyer, an Orange County Democrat, said when he arrived in the General Assembly three years ago, Luebke “immediately began to teach” him. Members from both sides of the aisle remembered him that way and as someone who made them better lawmakers. Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, even mimicked what it was like debating Luebke, opening books and laying them on tables as he tried to match wits with Luebke during past debates.
“He used to drive me crazy because he believed with every fiber of his being that which he said. I rarely agreed with him, but I would marvel, marvel, at the passion, at the dogmatic intellect that he would commit to whatever was on his mind, whatever issue he was advocating for or against,” Lewis said. “He helped shape me as a legislator. He made me prepare more and be a better legislator. He made me be a better person. And he made this state better.”
Luebke served 25 years in the General Assembly and taught at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC Greensboro. He authored two books, “Tar Heel Politics: Myths and Realities” and “Tar Heel Politics 2000.” He died at the age of 70.