Following is an excerpt from the final speech Jesse Helms planned but never got a chance to deliver to the Senate. It was entered into Congressional Record in October 2002.
As I approach the end of my five terms in the Senate, I realize that being remembered isn't important. What is important is standing up for what you believe to be right, hoping that you have done everything you can to preserve the moral and spiritual principles that made America great in the first place.
My father, rest his soul, was a good man who taught me many things. In my office, there is an inscription of something he told me many years ago. “Son,” he said, “the Lord doesn't expect you to win. He just expects you to try.”
With the remarkable Dot Helms at my side, we have done our best to live up to my father's admonition. And while we are certainly not perfect, and we certainly haven't always had all the answers, we have the comfort of feeling that we have done the best we can. Nobody can claim to have had a better life, or to be more blessed and honored by the people of North Carolina, than Dot Helms and me.
Every so often, a reporter will ask me what I consider to be my legacy after 30 years in the Senate. Now “legacy” is a fancy word for the son of a small-town police and fire chief, so I never know how to answer such a question.
But there is one thing I should mention that has given me particular satisfaction during my Senate career. When I was first elected, it was, as I have mentioned, a genuine surprise. I never expected to win. And one of the things I promised myself on that November night was that I would never, ever, fail to see a young person, or a group of young people, who wanted to see me.
Now the young lady who keeps track of such things in my office recently told me that I have had the chance to visit with more than 100,000 young people during my nearly 30 years in the Senate. I have been the beneficiary of the time I have spent with these young folks.
It is in them that I have seen the promise of what I regard as the “miracle of America.” They are bright, curious, thoroughly decent young folks who are committed to preserving the ideals of America as a country devoted to freedom and opportunity.
As Dot Helms and I prepare to go home – this time for good – we are grateful to young people who have visited us. Dot and I are convinced that America's future is in fine hands.
They are not my legacy; they are America's legacy, and I thank the Lord for them every day.
I thank the chair, I thank my colleagues, and I thank the people of North Carolina for allowing me the honor of serving in the U.S. Senate.