Former state Sen. J.J. “Monk” Harrington, who championed rural Eastern North Carolina during more than two decades in office, died Wednesday at age 89 at his Bertie County home.
The Democrat served in the Senate from 1963 to 1988, rising to the position of Senate president pro tempore during his last four years.
“Monk was a giant of a man in the Senate,” former Gov. Jim Hunt told The News & Observer of Raleigh. “He was a great big man physically. He was a big man in his influence and friendliness in the state Senate. He was always deeply devoted to his county and to his community and the whole of northeastern North Carolina.”
Harrington hosted an annual deer hunt that attracted Democratic politicians to his home county, one of the state's last remaining rural political traditions, where candidates for high office would prove they weren't out of touch with country folk.
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Harrington received his nickname while young, when he visited a moonshine still and sampled a homemade drink called monkey rum.
Harrington, who operated a farm equipment business, worked in the background at the legislature in support of East Carolina University, agriculture, and hunting and fishing laws.
A bridge over the Roanoke River is named for him.
“I don't have much to say on the Senate floor,” Harrington once said. “But I never lost a battle on it. When I want something, I know how to get it. I've always been a behind-the-scenes man.”
He is survived by his wife, Dianne; a daughter; two sons; two sisters; six grandchildren; and two great grandchildren.
A funeral service is scheduled Friday at First Baptist Church of Lewiston Woodville.