Rep. Jim Fulghum, a retired neurosurgeon who focused on health-care issues during his time in the legislature, died Saturday.
Fulghum, 70, a Wake County Republican, had withdrawn from his campaign for state Senate earlier this month after a cancer diagnosis.
“The residents of Wake County were lucky to have Dr. Fulghum represent them – his leadership as a legislator was second only to his compassion and expertise as a doctor serving his constituents and the state of North Carolina,” said House Speaker Thom Tillis in a news release.
Fulghum was first elected to the House in 2012. When Sen. Neal Hunt, another Republican from Raleigh, announced this February that he planned to retire after 10 years in office, he quickly recommended Fulghum to replace him.
“His experience as a neurosurgeon and his understanding of health care issues such as managed care made me think he would be the perfect candidate,” Hunt said.
Fulghum easily defeated Apryl Major during the Republican primary for the seat this spring. At the time he said politics had given him a way to stay engaged in the community as he retired from medicine.
“This came kind of like a blessing to give me some way that I could continue to be interested in political and intellectual issues,” he said in April.
Fulghum was diagnosed just three weeks before his death with metastatic esophageal cancer, according to his family. He announced his withdrawal from the Senate race on July 3.
Republican party officials have selected John M. Alexander Jr., owner of Cardinal International Trucks, as a replacement candidate to take Fulghum’s place in this November’s Senate race against Democrat Tom Bradshaw.
During his time in office, Fulghum helped introduce bills that were signed into law to require hospitals to expand heart defect screening for newborns and to allow medical use of hemp oil in clinical trials to treat a seizure disorder. He also championed bills that would require Epi-pens in school and raise the legal age to use tanning beds to 18.
Fulghum was a caring but tough legislator who was eager to listen to others’ ideas, said Peg O’Connell, a legislative consultant for March of Dimes and a volunteer for the American Health Association who worked with him on the heart screening legislation and other public health issues.
“He will willing to take on complicated issues and he was also willing to break them down and to do what was best for health,” she said.
Fulghum also co-chaired a study committee on the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. He had agreed with the decision not to expand Medicaid to thousands of low-income people as part of the law, saying he wanted to see the program working more efficiently before the state took on any additional costs.
Rep. Duane Hall, a Raleigh Democrat who entered the legislature the same year as Fulghum, said he was a humble and likeable colleague whose insights on health care were valued.
“Years of working with people, in a profession where political party doesn’t matter, helped to create a disposition and demeanor that made Dr. Fulghum very easy to work with, for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle,” he wrote in an emailed comment.
Fulghum was born in Raleigh and graduated from Broughton High School and N.C. State University. He married his high school sweetheart, Mary Susan, and the two attended UNC-Chapel Hill together for medical school.
Fulghum practiced medicine in Raleigh for most of his career and served in the Army Reserves. He was called for active duty during the Gulf War and retired as a major.
The couple has two grown daughters, Emily Fulghum Roberson, who worked as his legislative assistant, and Molly Fulghum Heintz.
Mary Susan Fulghum wrote that she enjoyed a wonderful life with her husband, without regrets.
“He was my first and only love and we got to accomplish so much together, from raising two beautiful girls, to practicing medicine, to traveling the world. I was so proud of him when he was elected, and so enjoyed seeing him pursue something that gave him such great joy,” she said.