Former senator Jesse Helms passed away on July 4, the same day as presidents Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Monroe years before him. He was 86.
Many remember Helms for championing conservative causes while vehemently blocking measures he perceived as surrendering national sovereignty or catering to communism.
In a statement, Rev. Billy Graham honored Helms for the faith that motivated such actions, calling him a “man of consistent conviction to conservative ideals and courage to faithfully serve God and country based on principle, not popularity or politics.
“[I]t is fitting that such a patriot who fought for free markets and free people would die on Independence Day,” Graham continued. “Over three decades in the United States Congress, Senator Helms was a loyal and effective leader on behalf of our State, with whom I connected during times of national crisis.”
Besides his job as a United States senator, Helms was also a member at Hayes Barton Baptist Church near Raleigh, N.C. since 1966. The senator was unabashedly pro-life and pro-family in his voting record, and his willingness to take a stand earned him enemies and friends. Everyone, however, remembers his consistency.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, recalls one day when he was preparing to interview Helms.
"He was being interviewed by one of the network people," Land said in an interview with Baptist Press. "This woman told Helms, 'Your position on this issue is really hurting you in your re-election campaign in North Carolina and it's a very close race. Why are you taking this position?' ... Jesse, who was tall, looked down at her, 'I didn't come here to get re-elected.' He said, 'I'm here to serve my country, and truth be known, I'd rather go back and live in North Carolina full-time. I'm doing this as a sacrifice for my country.'
"I thought, 'That's unusual.' There are people like that in Washington, but not many and not enough."
Pro-life group Concerned Women of American also remember Helms for his commitment to family and moral values.
CWA Founder and Chairman Beverly LaHaye said, “[H]e stood against the onslaught of those who would grant special rights to the sexually confused and broken. He weathered the kinds of storms and personal attacks under which others have quickly caved. Jesse Helms is a culture war hero, and as a nation we are indebted to him. Our prayers are with Jesse's family during this time."
Helms served North Carolina for five terms in the United States Senate – more than enough to earn him a reputation of never backing down on what he believed. The nickname “Senator No” stuck based on his willingness to be the single dissenting vote, as well as his parliamentary ability to block legislation he opposed in committee.
Land admits that Helms at some “blind spots” – he vigorously protected the tobacco industry while opposing the Civil Rights Act and Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a national holiday – but says there was “ample evidence” he was not personally racist.
"It think it's appropriate and fitting that Jesse died on July the Fourth," Land said. "He was a patriot.”