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Remembering 12 Tar Heels who made a difference

ROB CHRISTENSEN
Syndicated Columnist

Here are some of the North Carolinians who made their mark in government and politics who passed from the scene in 2016.

Cliff Cameron may have been born and bred in Mississippi, but he was among the most talented North Carolinians of his generation. Cameron served as an artillery officer in World War II, earning a Bronze Star in Europe. He started Cameron-Brown Mortgage Co. in Raleigh and went on to become president and chairman of First Union National Bank in Charlotte. He was Republican Gov. Jim Martin’s budget director, chairman of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, and served on the Federal Reserve Board in Richmond, Va. The tall, courtly Southern gentleman died at age 96 in May.

Howard Clement had served on Durham City Council for 30 years when he died at 82 in May. The Republican was active in the civil rights movement as a young man, had been attorney for N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Co., the largest black-owned insurance company in the nation, and emerged as a kind of ambassador for the city.

Bill Creech, a Smithfield native, had a remarkable public career that began with service in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. He was a Foreign Service officer in Baghdad and London in the 1950s; and was U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin’s chief counsel as he moved to protect the rights of the mentally ill, military personnel and Native Americans. He accompanied U.S. Sen. Hubert Humphrey, D-Minn., on foreign trips, where he met with the likes of Israeli leaders David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir. He served eight years in both houses of the state legislature, where he helped merge the city and county school systems and authored the so-called Creech Bill, providing new opportunities for children with disabilities. He spent 14 years as a district court judge. He died in Raleigh in October at age 91.

Rodney Ellis rose from being a teacher in Winston-Salem to president of the N.C. Association of Educators. The Mocksville native led the teachers during the most recent recession as they opposed furloughs and severe budget cuts, and he fought legislative proposals to eliminate teacher tenure and begin tax-paid vouchers for private schools. Frustrated by a GOP legislature, he was among the hundreds arrested for civil disobedience as part of the “Moral Monday” protests in 2013. He died in September at age 49.

Joan Smith Ewing. Rarely do congressional aides get the credit they deserve for running a House office. They are supposed to stand in the background while the boss gets all the glory. Ewing was the right arm of 4th District Democratic Congressmen Ike Andrews and later David Price, until Parkinson’s disease forced her retirement. The Kansas native was also a huge Carolina basketball fan, cheering on the teams coached by her brother, the late Dean Smith. She died in April in Chapel Hill at age 87.

Bill Green, who grew up in Zebulon, served in the Air Force in Italy during World War II, before starting a career as a newspaperman in places such as Durham, Morganton and Shelby. In 1957, Green joined the U.S. Information Agency and served as press officer at U.S. embassies in Bangladesh and South Africa. At Duke University, Green became the right-hand man of President Terry Sanford, helping promote the Durham school into a national powerhouse. In 1981, Green, taking a leave of absence from Duke, was the ombudsman for The Washington Post. He conducted a critical investigation of its series about an 8-year old heroin addict that won a Pulitzer Prize, but turned out to be fictitious. He died in Durham in March at 91.

Quentin Lindsey’s career was influenced by his long friendship with Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt. A Nebraska native, Lindsey served in the Pacific during World War II before earning a Ph.D in economics at Harvard University and moving to N.C. State University. Among his students was Hunt. When Lindsey went to Nepal on a Ford Foundation grant to help that country, he invited Hunt and his family along — the Hunts stayed two years, providing Hunt with many ideas about how to improve developing economies. When Hunt became governor, he named Lindsey his science and public policy adviser. In that role, Lindsey helped establish the N.C. School of Science and Math in Durham, the N.C. Microelectronics Center and the N.C. Biotechnology Center, both in RTP. Lindsey died in Cary in September at age 95.

Paul Luebke, who for 25 years helped define what it meant to be a liberal in the North Carolina legislature, died in October age 70. A Chicago native and a Durham resident, Luebke rose in politics as an opponent of the Durham Freeway that was to plow through poor black neighborhoods, organizing the Durham People’s Alliance in the early 1970s. Besides being a lawmaker, Luebke, who had a doctorate from Columbia University, was an associate professor of sociology at UNC-Greensboro. He is the author of “Tar Heel Politics.”

Robert Morgan had a remarkable career that saw him rise from Harnett County clerk of court to the U.S. Senate. In between, he was a powerful state legislator, attorney general and director of the State Bureau of Investigation. He served in the Navy in the Pacific in World War II and was called back to duty in the Korean War. He later served as lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve and lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve. He died at age 90 in July in Lillington.

Mark Stephens for nearly four decades was a leading conservative political strategist. He helped elect U.S. Sens. Jesse Helms, John East, Lauch Faircloth and Elizabeth Dole. For many years, Stephens was associated with the Congressional Club, Helms’ Raleigh-based political organization. He also served as executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee under Dole. Stephens, who lived in Apex, was 61 when he died in June.

Jim Trotter, who served as general counsel to two-term Republican Gov. Jim Martin, died in December at age 93 in Raleigh. Trotter, a conservative intellectual, was among other things an admirer of Helms, a lover of motorcycles and all things cultural, and a defender of the news media. The latter came from his devotion to the Constitution and his family connections; his late wife, Saravette, was a newspaper editor, his brother-in law Vermont Royster edited The Wall Street Journal and his cousin Tom Wolfe is the noted novelist and social critic. Trotter, a native of Salisbury, during World War II piloted B-24s in the China-Burma-India theater. He spent most of his law career in Rocky Mount, where he had close ties to the Hardees food chain and the chain’s co-founder, former Lt. Gov. Jim Gardner.

Sam Whitehurst, a native of New Bern, was a Raleigh fixture serving 16 years in the state legislature and then working another 22 years as executive director of the N.C. Soft Drink Association. During World War II, he served in the Army in the Pacific. He died at his home in Cary in October at age 94.

Rob Christensen has covered politics for The News & Observer of Raleigh for nearly four decades, and is also the author of The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics.

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