Mourners bid final farewell to Helms at NC church

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Associated Press Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — About two dozen people lined up before the doors opened Monday at former North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms’ longtime church to bid a final farewell to the conservative champion, who died on the Fourth of July.

The Republican, who served in the Senate from 1973 to 2003, lay in the sanctuary of Hayes-Barton Baptist Church, where he worshipped for decades, in a casket covered by a U.S. flag and flanked by two state highway patrol troopers.

The front of the sanctuary was decorated in flowers sent by U.S. senators and a painting of Helms at work.

Pam Glaub, 48, of Raleigh said there had never been another person like Helms in the U.S. Senate. “I don’t know of anyone quite like him รณ a person who stood by his convictions without yielding.”

The church will receive visitors until 8 p.m., and the family will receive friends there from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the church, followed by a private burial for family members.

Gov. Mike Easley has ordered all North Carolina state flags to be flown at half-staff until sunset Tuesday. Visitors may sign a condolence book in the state Capitol through close of business Tuesday.

Helms is remembered by many for his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

North Carolina voters first learned of Helms through his newspaper and television commentaries that were a harbinger of what was to come. He won election to the Senate in 1972 and rose to become a powerful committee chairman before deciding not to seek a sixth term in 2002.

He never lost a political race, but his margin of victory was never large, reflecting his image as a polarizing figure both at home and in Washington. In the Senate, he forced roll-call votes that required Democrats to take politically difficult votes on cultural issues, such as federal funding for art he deemed pornographic, school busing and flag-burning.

He ran racially tinged campaigns in his last two runs for Senate, defeating former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, who is black, in 1990 and 1996.

In the first race, a Helms commercial showed a white fist crumpling up a job application, these words underneath: “You needed that job … but they had to give it to a minority.”

As he aged, Helms was slowed by a variety of illnesses, including a bone disorder, prostate cancer and heart problems, and used a motorized scooter to navigate the Capitol as his career neared an end. In April 2006, his family said he had been moved into a convalescent center after being diagnosed with vascular dementia, in which repeated minor strokes damage the brain. He was 86 when he died Friday.

Helms was born in Monroe on Oct. 18, 1921. He attended Wingate College and Wake Forest College, but never graduated and went on to serve in the Navy during World War II.