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James McDuffie, former NC senator and Charlotte City Council member, dies at 85

James McDuffie, a Charlotte City Council member in the early 1970s and later a five-term state senator, died Thursday.
James McDuffie, a Charlotte City Council member in the early 1970s and later a five-term state senator, died Thursday. File photo

James Doyle McDuffie, a Charlotte City Council member in the early 1970s who became a five-term state senator, died Thursday at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center of complications from a stroke. He was 85.

McDuffie was a Kannapolis native, State Farm insurance agent for 59 years and member of Pritchard Memorial Baptist Church in Charlotte since 1956.

He also was an athlete since his days at J.W. Cannon High School, where he played on the basketball team and graduated in 1946. He played on the Kannapolis YMCA traveling basketball team and on the Lenoir-Rhyne College team before transferring to Catawba College, where he graduated.

McDuffie joined the Air Force after college and was stationed in Denver, Colo., where he met his future bride, Darlene, on Easter Sunday at the hotel where she worked. He obtained his master’s in history at the University of Denver.

The couple were married on the nationally televised “Bride and Groom” show, which was broadcast live. They moved to Charlotte in 1954, where he became a coach and teacher at Sedgefield Junior High. Darlene McDuffie died in 2008.

McDuffie was an original stockholder at Charlotte Motor Speedway and loved attending major sporting events, including the Carolina Panthers’ Super Bowl appearance, ACC basketball tournaments, NCAA championships and the U.S. Open in golf.

The Rev. Bobby Morrow, pastor at Pritchard Memorial, where McDuffie was a member for most of his life, remembered a jovial and gregarious man who was quick to tell a joke but also strove to get friends and co-workers involved in causes that would benefit others.

Morrow remembered when the church first installed video screens in its sanctuary. McDuffie, his vision not as good as it used to be, asked church leaders to put more events on the screens, but Morrow and others worried too much video would be a distraction. They came to a compromise.

“When his granddaughter sang, we always put her on the screen,” Morrow said. “He used to joke, ‘My tithes would go up if you put my granddaughter on the screen.’”

As a Republican state senator, McDuffie’s political career stretched into the 1980s. He visited the White House twice and met with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

He gained a bit of notoriety when, having already been elected to the Senate in 1984, doubts arose about his home.

McDuffie claimed to have moved from his Eastway Drive home into his insurance office a couple miles up the street. The office was in the district he was elected to represent. The house was not.

To investigate, an Observer reporter went to McDuffie’s house early one morning and knocked. She saw McDuffie peek out, then scamper across the living room toward the back door. By the time she got around, he was backing his Buick out of the driveway.

When he was ranked 49th of 50 senators in effectiveness, he blamed the rating system.

Two brothers who preceded him in death were well known in their own rights: Willie Durant McDuffie survived the “Bataan Death March” in the Philippines during World War II, and Glenn McDuffie was recognized as the famous “Kissing Sailor” in Times Square at the end of World War II.

Surviving are four children and their spouses.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Friday at Pritchard Memorial Baptist Church. Burial will be private for the family at Sharon Memorial Park.

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