Helms Funeral
Gerry Broome  /  AP
Mourners gather as family members depart for a private burial following funeral services for former Sen. Jesse Helms at Hayes-Barton Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., on Tuesday Helms, who represented North Carolina in the Senate from 1973 to 2003, died Friday.
updated 7/8/2008 5:28:05 PM ET 2008-07-08T21:28:05

Vice President Dick Cheney and a delegation of U.S. senators joined hundreds of other mourners who paid their respects Tuesday at the funeral of former Sen. Jesse Helms, a five-term Republican who died on the Fourth of July.

Helms' family sat in the front pews of the packed 800-seat sanctuary at Hayes Barton Baptist Church in Raleigh, where Helms worshipped for decades and served as a deacon. A bipartisan group of federal and state officials listened during a nearly hour and a half service as friends an family recalled the conservative icon, who inspired both love and disdain for his strong views.

"Jesse Helms always stood his ground," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said from the pulpit. "He put duty above all else — duty to God, to country, to family ... the simple duty of treating other people well."

Helms, who spent three terms in the U.S. Senate, died at age 86 after years of declining health.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole, who took Helms' seat when he chose not to seek re-election in 2002, attended the service with her husband, former Republican presidential candidate Kansas Sen. Bob Dole. Her counterpart, GOP Sen. Richard Burr, sat nearby.

Democratic Sens. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Joe Biden of Delaware also were seated in the pews, along with Gov. Mike Easley and several state political figures. Cindy McCain, wife of presumed Republican presidential nominee John McCain, also was on hand as others gathered to watch the funeral service remotely from a church gym.

Jimmy Broughton, Helms' former chief of staff, recalled for the crowd how a woman from Raleigh needed help with Social Security benefits. Her neighbor, a Democrat, couldn't help her with the problem, but advised her to call Helms for help.

The neighbor told her, "I despise the SOB, but I think it's high time you call Jesse Helms," Broughton said, drawing laughter.

The coffin of Helms, who served in the Senate from 1973 to 2003, was covered with a U.S. flag as the front of the sanctuary was decorated with flowers sent by U.S. senators and a painting of Helms at work. Choir members, in red silk robes, stood behind friends and family who spoke during the service.

Cheney did not speak at the funeral nor issue any statements to reporters. But his spokeswoman, Lea Anne McBride, said, "The vice president went just to pay his respects and spend some time with the family."

Helms won his first election in 1972 after a career in newspapers, radio and television commentaries and rose to become a powerful committee chairman.

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Polarizing figure
Helms is remembered by many for his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and was considered a polarizing figure both at home and in Washington.

He never lost a political race, but his margin of victory was never large. In the Senate, he forced roll-call votes that required Democrats to take politically difficult votes on cultural issues, such as federal funding for art he deemed pornographic, school busing and flag-burning.

He also ran racially tinged campaigns in his last two runs for Senate, defeating former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, who is black, in 1990 and 1996.

In the first race, a Helms commercial showed a white fist crumpling up a job application, as a narrator said, "You needed that job, and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota. Is that really fair?"

'He's an icon'
As he aged, Helms was slowed by a variety of illnesses, including a bone disorder, prostate cancer and heart problems, and used a motorized scooter to navigate the Capitol as his career neared an end. In April 2006, his family said he had been moved into a convalescent center after being diagnosed with vascular dementia, in which repeated minor strokes damage the brain

Helms was born in Monroe on Oct. 18, 1921. He attended Wingate College and Wake Forest College, but never graduated and went on to serve in the Navy during World War II.

Raleigh resident Wallace Holloway, 68, waited outside the church for about an hour before the doors were to open. He said Helms will be greatly missed, in part because he believed there's no longer anyone in Congress with his conviction.

"We need more men like Jesse Helms," Holloway said. "He's an icon — a Southern gentlemen. He'll be remembered for integrity and truth."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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