ARDEN — Two North Carolina governors and dozens of legislators from both parties joined several hundred mourners Tuesday to pay their last respects to veteran General Assembly member Martin Nesbitt.
Gov. Pat McCrory and former Gov. Beverly Perdue also attended the funeral at a Buncombe County church. Former Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker and current Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue delivered eulogies.
Nesbitt relinquished the Senate minority leader’s post just before he died last Thursday at age 67 following a recent cancer diagnosis. Nesbitt’s casket was covered by the North Carolina flag, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported.
“Until the end, Martin placed his people over politics,” Blue, D-Wake, told the crowd at Biltmore Baptist Church in Arden. “He was loyal to his people and he was loyal to his friends.”
A funeral procession following the service gave roadside residents the chance to honor the Asheville Democrat for a legislative career which started in 1979 when he succeeded his mother, Mary Nesbitt, following her death.
Under the mentorship of four-term House Speaker Liston Ramsey, Nesbitt became a top budget negotiator in the 1980s and was as a budget chairman when Blue was House speaker in the early 1990s. He was known for speaking out for his mountain constituents.
Wicker, who also was previously in the House, remembered Nesbitt as someone who fought for what he believed in no matter the odds. Nesbitt’s favorite political battles involved working on behalf of the poor and less fortunate, Wicker said.
“He didn’t just enjoy it,” Wicker said. “He relished it.”
Nesbitt’s burial was private.
In 2002, Nesbitt had a major role in getting legislation passed that substantially cut pollution from 14 coal-fired power plants, citing smog that was diminishing mountain vistas and hurting tourism.
In the Senate three years later, Nesbitt almost singled-handedly pushed through the legislature a $247 million disaster relief package for western North Carolina following two tropical storms.
“Now the people can begin to plan what they’re going to do with their lives,” Nesbitt said when the bill received final legislative approval.
Nesbitt ultimately rose to become Senate majority leader in 2009. Later as minority leader, Nesbitt was the primary voice in the Senate opposing the legislature’s Republican-dominated agenda.