YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Nation

Senators Take Some Time Out to Pay Tribute to Jesse Helms

Retirement: A hero to many conservatives for his anti-communism, the 'true gentleman of the Old South' is finishing his fifth term.

October 03, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Senate paid tribute Wednesday to retiring Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, an icon of conservatism and an uncompromising foe of communism who, colleagues said, abided by a Southern courtliness of a bygone era.

Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, the 84-year-old Senate president pro tempore, called Helms, 80, "a true gentleman of the Old South" who stuck to his beliefs and demonstrated the power a single senator can wield.

"He was not a man to be intimidated," Byrd said as Helms' wife, Dorothy, and other friends and family looked on from the gallery. "He took a stand. He was willing to take a stand alone, without a tremor."

Helms, who is serving the last of his five terms, was the second retiring senator from the Carolinas in as many weeks to be recognized for his long service. Senators last week turned their attention to 99-year-old Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who was first elected in 1954.

Helms is a hero to many conservatives for his ardent opposition to communism, an agenda he advanced from senior positions on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He battled with the United Nations over U.S. dues and was in the conservative vanguard of social issues such as school busing, pornography in art, flag-burning and homosexuality in the Boy Scouts.

"His willingness to stand up and say what he felt was right is the essence of what it takes," said Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.).

Added GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky: "There is no question that you have made an enormous difference."

On Capitol Hill, Helms won the nickname "Sen. No" for his relish in blocking nominations and legislation from reaching the Senate floor. True to form, Helms objected Wednesday to a Foreign Relations Committee meeting on Iraq that had been scheduled at the same time as his tribute.

Helms' Democratic colleague from North Carolina, Sen. John Edwards, called Helms a "relentless advocate" for the state's people and interests, including tobacco growers whose products he once gave away at his Senate offices.

"You can't hardly move in North Carolina without finding people that Sen. Helms has touched," Edwards said.

Senators of both parties, including liberal Democrats who disagree with Helms on almost every issue, said that Helms maintained a gentle demeanor even toward opponents and was particularly kind to the elevator operators, pages and other workers who keep the Capitol operating.

"One of the ways you judge a person is just to watch the way they treat people," said Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.). "I don't think there's anybody in the Senate who treats them with more grace."

Helms sat at his desk during the tribute, waving a salute and mouthing the words "thank you" when a speaker finished. He has been slowed by health problems in recent years, including heart surgery this year that caused him to miss much of the Senate's business.

But his sense of humor was clearly intact. Referring to his frequent jousts with newspaper editorial writers and pundits, Helms said of the speeches: "I've been sitting here wondering who on Earth this Helms guy is."

Then he quickly added: "I am grateful."

Los Angeles Times Articles