Bryan Hanks column: Remembering Rep. Walter B. Jones
Rep. Walter B. Jones, left, is interviewed following the Naturalization Ceremony at Harmony Hall on July 4. The representative passed away on Sunday on his 76th birthday. Photo by Linda Whittington / Neuse News
Eastern North Carolina has lost perhaps its greatest advocate with the passing of U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. The longtime legislator – who represented our area within the Third Congressional District since 1995 – died on Sunday, his 76th birthday.
Jones was a rare kind of politician, one that voted his conscience – and that of the folks in his district – instead of following any kind of party line. Following in the footsteps of his father who served in the U.S. House, he actually won five elections to the N.C. House as a Democrat before converting to the GOP in 1994.
Rep. Jones was never beholden to either party, a fact he was proud to share with his constituents. If he thought the Republican Party or President Trump was wrong on an issue, he didn’t hesitate to share his non-support of either.
He was also the preeminent legislator that fought the good fight against our national debt. He realized early how dangerous it is to continuously run up debt without having a real plan to get out of it and he would share that knowledge wherever he appeared in ENC.
He was truly one of us, too. When Adrian King started the tradition of holding a U.S. citizenship ceremony in Kinston at Harmony Hall of the Fourth of July in 2005, he invited Rep. Jones and other politicians to the event. Jones attended every single year the event was held. At every ceremony, he always spoke from his heart about his love for America, for ENC and for those newly-minted citizens who had done things the right way.
It had become an anticipated annual tradition of mine to spend a few minutes with Rep. Jones at those naturalization ceremonies to pick his brain. He was kind, well-spoken and made you feel like you were the most important person in the world for the few moments you got to spend with him.
The last time I saw Rep. Jones was at an October meeting with local officials at the new cooperative extension office following Hurricane Florence. You could tell then his health was waning – he had trouble hearing, his speech was slowed and it took him a little longer to get around.
But it was important to him to meet with Lenoir County Emergency Services Director Roger Dail and Assistant Director Jerri King, Sheriff Ronnie Ingram, Kinston Mayor Dontario Hardy, Craig Hill, Linda Rouse Sutton and the county commissioners and members of the city council to see what he could do in D.C. to help us out here in Kinston and Lenoir County.
North Carolina Republicans now have a tough task in finding Jones’ replacement. It’ll behoove them to find someone like Jones – an iconic political maverick who cared more about the people he represented instead of representing a party for the party’s sake. We’ve got enough of those types of politicians in Washington, D.C., and Raleigh.
Rest in peace, Rep. Jones. Thank you for your service to Eastern North Carolina and America. They just don’t make them like you anymore.