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Published: Wednesday, 7/9/2008

Mourners recall both sides of Senator Helms

FROM THE BLADE'S NEWS SERVICES
Troopers carry the casket of former Sen. Jesse Helms into Hayes-Barton Baptist Church. Vice President Dick Cheney and North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley were among the mourners. Troopers carry the casket of former Sen. Jesse Helms into Hayes-Barton Baptist Church. Vice President Dick Cheney and North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley were among the mourners.
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RALEIGH - Mourners who gathered to remember former North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms yesterday celebrated both sides of his conflicting persona: the cantankerous conservative who reveled in political confrontation and the Southern gentleman who would do anything to lend a hand.

Vice President Dick Cheney attended Mr. Helms' funeral along with a cadre of sitting senators, including some Democrats who spent years trying to keep Mr. Helms in check.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) spoke from the pulpit, recalling how Mr. Helms enjoyed frustrating rival lawmakers by using congressional rules at times to wreak havoc when he was displeased. Mr. Helms died on the Fourth of July.

"Jesse Helms always stood his ground," Mr. McConnell told the packed 800-seat sanctuary at Hayes Barton Baptist Church in Raleigh. "He put duty above all else - duty to God, to country, to family the simple duty of treating other people well."

Though that duty of kindness was often obscured by Mr. Helms' caustic convictions - he opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, for one - friends and family frequently spoke of that altruism.

Jimmy Broughton, Mr. Helms' former chief of staff, remembered Mr. Helms once interrupted an urgent staff meeting to inform a fellow senator of an underinflated tire - and also how he never yielded in fighting for constituents' rights.

Democratic Sens. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Joe Biden of Delaware also attended Mr. Helms' funeral, along with Gov. Mike Easley and several state political figures. Cindy McCain, wife of presumed Republican presidential nominee John McCain, joined in paying respects to the five-term senator, who served from 1973 until 2003.

Mr. Helms' casket was draped with a U.S. flag as the front of the sanctuary was decorated with flowers sent by U.S. senators and a painting of Mr. Helms at work.

He rose to political power after a career in newspapers, radio, and TV commentary. He took to politics in the 1950 campaign to elect segregationist candidate Willis Smith to the Senate.

While he never shied away from the issue of race, using it as a wedge up until his final campaign, he wasn't just about one issue.

He often forced roll-call votes in the Senate that required Democrats to take politically difficult votes on such cultural issues as federal funding for art he deemed pornographic, school busing, and flag-burning.

But one man, L.F. Eason III, gave up the only job he'd ever had rather than lower a flag to honor Mr. Helms.

Mr. Eason, 51, a 29-year veteran of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, told his staff at a small Raleigh lab not to fly the U.S. or North Carolina flags at half mast Monday as ordered in a directive to all state agencies by Governor Easley. When a superior ordered the lab to do so, Mr. Eason decided to retire.

Mr. Eason told his staff that he did not think it was appropriate to honor the former senator because of his "doctrine of negativity, hate, and prejudice" and his opposition to civil rights bills and the federal Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday.



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