Robert Morgan, coming out of the farmland of Harnett County, made his own destiny through hard work and shrewd political calculation. Morgan was 90 when he died Saturday, but his accomplishments and the multiple careers in which he engaged seemed enough to fill even more years.
His highest office was U.S. senator, but his greatest contributions to North Carolina undoubtedly came through his service, prior to his Senate election, as attorney general. Tough and unbending, Morgan was a fighter for consumers, someone who stood up fearlessly against special interests. That kind of populism – when that word meant a voice for ordinary citizens – made him a popular figure statewide. He fought for anti-pollution measures and edged toward progressive views to the point that he had a split of sorts with one of his early mentors, I. Beverly Lake, who had been a segregationist candidate for governor in 1960.
By 1974, when he ran for the U.S. Senate, Morgan was not easy to define philosophically. He had, after all, been a Lake ally earlier, and at one time he fought for the Speaker Ban law, now infamous for its suppression of free speech in banning communists from speaking on public campuses in the 1960s. But he won the Senate Democratic primary and then the general election, and though he served one term before his defeat by the Jesse Helms machine and an East Carolina University professor named John East, Morgan impressed his Washington colleagues with hard work. He later practiced law and served as head of the State Bureau of Investigation.
Robert Morgan loved public service and showed an admirable ability to evolve politically not for his own convenience but because he recognized changing times. He leaves a shining example of personal integrity and dedication to public service.