Monday, July 07, 2008

How's this for a political reporter? I didn't find out about Jesse Helms' death Friday until Saturday!

I was at my brother's cabin in Wisconsin for the weekend and we were no where near watching television with 75 degree weather and a boat! My father-in-law called Saturday asking if I had heard. Kinda crazy.

I spent a large part of today talking with folks at the church who came to pay their final respects. We'll be covering his funeral live on News 14 Carolina tomorrow. In the meantime, here's my story about it from today. I'm hoping to do this week's show on the Senator as well.

RALEIGH -- The public is saying a final farewell to Jesse Helms today.

The Republican Senator died of natural causes on the Fourth of July. He was 86 years old. His body will continue to lie in repose at his Raleigh church until 8:00 pm tonight.

Thomas Allen was one of a dozen people who lined up an hour before the church doors opened. Allen brought letters he got from the senator.

"He was instrumental in not only helping me help handicap people with disabilities but ordinary citizens who may have had tough times in their lives," Allen said.

Ellen Baker brought her five year old son.

"He's just now entering schools and paying attention to the things around him and he doesn't understand it now but maybe he'll look back and say hey I remember that with my mom when we helped celebrate his life," Baker said.

Throughout the day a slow but steady line of people walked past the Senator's coffin in the church Helms attended for 67 years. They paused at his casket draped with an American flag with an honor guard from the NC Highway Patrol nearby.

"He was a very loyal and career senator so I just like to stop by to show my appreciation and thanks for him serving so long in the Senate," Garland Thompson, Jr. from the Christian Leadership Council said.

"I will remember Jesse Helms who spoke his mind," Baker added. "He was brave enough to say what he felt even when those things were not popular, he was the one who stood up and said the way he felt."

It was not just supporters who came to say a final farewell to Helms. In his 30 years as a senator he ruffled a lot of feathers, but even opponents of his work came to pay their final respects.

One of his most controversial moments involved his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

"Again even if I don't agree with all his viewpoints I feel like he did a lot for the state of North Carolina," Gary Pennington said.

It was truly a day to remember Jesse Helms courage to stand up for his beliefs rather than argue over those beliefs that created so much controversy.

Helms funeral will take place at the same church at 2:00 Tuesday afternoon. A private burial service will follow. News 14 Carolina will air the entire funeral live.


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