Colleagues recall Helms as gentleman

Sen. Jesse Helms didn't always take popular stands, but the N.C. Republican was a gentleman who fought for what he believed, his former colleagues said Monday in tribute to him on the Senate floor.

Votes were delayed until Wednesday in the Senate, where Helms spent three decades, so lawmakers could attend his funeral today.

A military aircraft was secured to transport “a large outpouring” of both Republican and Democratic colleagues to the service in Raleigh.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., planned to give one of the eulogies at the request of Helms' family, he said.

“If you took a poll of the pages and the people who work in the Capitol about who was the most popular member, I expect Jesse Helms would have won, which would surprise an awful lot of people in the press and people out in America who thought of Jesse Helms as a fierce individual,” McConnell told the Senate Monday.

“In fact, in person, he was as gentle and accommodating and as friendly as anyone I ever would have met.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said he found it fitting that Helms died on the Fourth of July because he loved his country and worked to make it better.

Reid said he found Helms' views extreme but came to understand him while listening to Helms' frequent speeches.

Once, while Reid was presiding over a near-empty Senate chamber, Helms said: “Mr. President, I don't want to be here on this issue, but nobody else will come and talk about it,” Reid recalled of Helms' speech on pornography.

“I became so impressed with his sincerity that he really wasn't doing what he said for political reasons; he was doing it because that's what he believed,” he said.

Among the lawmakers who planned to attend the funeral today were Sens. Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr, both Republicans from North Carolina, and several N.C. House members of Congress.