Helms' own words on his life and career

In a 2005 memoir and in interviews with the Observer, former Sen. Jesse Helms talked about his career, his colleagues and his controversies. Here are some edited comments.

On Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Perhaps nothing in my 30 years in the Senate has been more twisted and misunderstood than my opposition to the creation of a federal holiday to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. My decision was based on facts, not on personality and certainly not on race.”

On the media

“I decided not to waste a lot of time debating my critics. Over the years I saved the government a lot of money on press secretaries.”

On Democrat John Edwards

“We had a sad and unusual tie in addition to our connections in Raleigh. John's teenage son, Wade, had been a visitor in my office shortly before his tragic death (in a 1996 car accident). The last picture ever taken of Wade was of the two of us together.”

On Edwards' 2004 vice presidential run

“It's always nice to see a North Carolinian in the national spotlight – like Clay Aiken and Fantasia Barrino – but watching a nice man with so little experience or familiarity with national and international issues struck me as ‘overreaching.'”

On illegal immigration

“If I walked through your back door tonight and took up residence in your guest room, would you expect the laws to protect your right to decide who came into your home? Or, would you be comfortable with the government saying that since I was already under your roof, I could just make myself comfortable?

“That scenario makes no more sense than rewarding the breaking of immigration laws with legal resident status.”

On whether he had any regrets

Many people see you as a polarizing figure. Any regrets about that?

“My friend Margaret Thatcher once said, `Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides.' I agree. But no one had to wonder if they could trust me or my commitments.”

On former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois

After Moseley Braun fought Helms' effort to renew a Confederate flag insignia for the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1993, the two found themselves in an elevator.

“I jokingly told her I was going to sing ‘Dixie' until she cried. Entering into the good-natured banter, she slapped me on the back and told me to hush. We all laughed. Somewhere between the elevator and her office, Senator Braun began to repeat endlessly a story that made it sound like I had taunted her and she begged me to stop. That was not reality.”

On his legacy

“That I had encouraged young folks to take the time to understand conservative principles and take up the challenge of seeing that our nation stayed true to the foundation our founders so wisely built for us.”

On what people would say about him in 20 years

“I pray that in 20 years, in 200 years, that any child can still work hard and reach any goal they set for themselves – just like that young boy from Monroe, North Carolina, was told so long ago that he could.”