Longtime U.S. Rep. Walter Jones dies at 76

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Walter Jones speaks during an interview at the Pitt County GOP Headquarters.


By Bobby Burns
The Daily Reflector

Monday, February 11, 2019

U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, the long-serving legislator who railed against deficit spending and advocated for the active duty military and veterans alike, died Sunday at age 76 after struggling with health problems including a broken hip.

Jones, a Republican from the Pitt County town of Farmville, represented the 3rd Congressional District. He had been re-elected to his 13th term in November and had announced he would retire at the end of the term. He became ill before the new session began, however, and was excused on Dec. 11.

“Congressman Jones represented the best of North Carolina politics,” said U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Wilson Democrat who gave Jones the oath of office on Jan. 4 during a private visit to Jones’ home. 

“He understood that being a leader meant often putting political allegiances aside in order to bring people together around important work. He was a proud representative of eastern North Carolina, and the residents of North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District are better off thanks to the lifelong service and dedication of Walter Jones.”

Jones’ office said at the time he took the oath that he was expected to return to his seat . However, he underwent surgery for a broken hip on Jan. 15 and his office announced on Jan. 26 that he had entered hospice.

His office announced at 6 p.m. Sunday that he had died earlier in the afternoon. The statement gave a nod to Jones’ deep faith. He was a Catholic who long opposed abortion rights.

“Congressman Jones was a man of the people,” the statement said. “With a kind heart and the courage of his convictions, he dedicated his life to serving his savior and to standing up for Americans who needed a voice. He was a champion for our men and women in uniform and their families, always mindful of their service and sacrifice.”

Jones was known for his independence, the statement said. He routinely voted against budget agreements supported by Republicans and Democrats alike because they relied on deficit spending. He voted in favor of the second Iraq war, a vote he would later regret.

He wrote hundreds of personal letters to the families of service men and women killed in the war and frequently called on Congress to restrict the executive branch from waging war without the authorization of congress, as spelled out in the Constitution.

Jones served as Democrat in the state House of Representatives for five terms from 1982 until 1992, when his father, U.S. Rep. Walter Jones Sr., died in office.

Jones ran to represent his father’s seat in the 1st Congressional District but lost in a runoff to Eva Clayton, the first black woman to represent North Carolina in Congress. Jones switched parties and ran in the 3rd District in 1994 and held the seat since then.

Condolences and statements of praise from fellow legislators were quickly released after news of Jones’ death on Sunday.

State Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said “North Carolina lost a strong advocate and I lost a friend. Congressman Jones served the people of his state with passion in the General Assembly and the U.S. Congress. During his tenure, our state and country went through important trials and came out stronger because of his work. I will miss him, and so will thousands of others."

Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis said Jones was the true embodiment of a public servant.

“He will be long remembered for his tireless advocacy for eastern North Carolina, which he loved dearly, and for always following his convictions, no matter the political cost. He always did what he felt was right for his constituents, his district, and his country, and it was no wonder why he was so widely admired and trusted. It was a true honor to serve with Walter Jones. Susan and I send our deepest condolences to Joe Anne and his loving family.”

Gov. Roy Cooper took to Twitter.

“I am grateful for the life and service of my longtime friend Congressman Walter Jones Jr.,” Cooper said. “He was a public servant who was true to his convictions and who will be missed.”

State law will require a new election to fill Jones’ seat, according to statute provided by the State Board of Elections. A spokesman, while not commenting directly on Jones’ situation, wrote in an email this month that such an election could be held as early as the spring.