Womble leaves big shoes to fill

by Jim Longworth

I have, from time to time,ranted about the need forterm limits in American politics.After all, how can anyonenot be ethically compromisedor corrupted by powerwhen spending most of heradult life in Washington orRaleigh.

Of course, there aresome exceptions. One is USRep. Howard Coble who hasbeen patrolling the halls ofCongress since 1985, andwho still commands the respect of both partiesfor his decency and dedication.

The other isNC Rep. Larry Womble who has held electedoffice for over 30 years. Last month, however,Womble’s long political career came to an abruptend when he announced that he would not seek a10th term as representative from the 71st District.The decision not to run was made following his involvement in a tragiccar crash which left one man dead and Womble critically injured.Larry W. Womble was born on June 6, 1941 in Winston-Salem.

Hegraduated from Atkins High School, and obtained degrees from WinstonSalem State University, UNCG and Appalachian State University. In1981 while working as assistant principal at Old Town ElementarySchool, Larry ran for and won a seat on the Board of Aldermen, representingthe Southeast Ward. Thirteen years later he was elected to the NCHouse of Representatives where he served until this year.

Larry is a champion of the people, and has worked tirelessly on theirbehalf. He is responsible for passage of the Racial Justice Act which allowedpeople on death row to use statistical evidence that race may have played afactor in their sentencing. But his most notable crusade has been to bring closureto the ugly chapter in our state’s history involving forced sterilizations.It was Larry who in 2003 persuaded Gov. Mike Easley to put anofficial end to the eugenics program which had sterilized nearly 8,000North Carolinians against their will, most of whom were poor and black.

Womble then set out to secure compensation for the surviving victims,but faced an uphill battle against hypocrites on both sides of the aisle.Still, Larry successfully pushed Gov. Bev Perdue to create a specialtask force that identified victims and studied the feasibility of awardingmonetary damages. Earlier this year while Larrywas recuperating from his accident, Perdue atlast pledged that she would include reparationfunds in the next budget. The governor made nopromise of an amount to be set aside, althoughher task force recommended $50,000 per livingvictim.

In the end, whatever level of compensationis awarded, it will be due to the hard work ofLarry Womble.Larry appeared on my “Triad Today” televisionprogram a number of times, and he was alsomy best cheerleader. Whenever I walked into apublic forum where I didn’t know some of thepeople, Larry would take me by the arm and introduceme around the room.

“This is my friendJim Longworth. He hosts ‘Triad Today’ and he’shelped us get the word out about this event,”Larry would say. The fact is, Larry has nevermet a stranger because he makes everyone feelcomfortable and important. Moreover, people ofall races, religions and political persuasions are easily charmed by Larry’sbig smile and genuine enthusiasm… traits that held him in good steadwhile serving in Raleigh. I’m also proud to say that Larry has never run anegative campaign, has always been civil to those who disagree with himand has never uttered an unkind word about anyone in my presence.I sometimes relied on Larry for advice. Once when I was approachedto run for office, I asked him what he thought.

“You better be preparedto spend a lot of time away from home, so think about that,” he told me.I thought about it and, being the homebody I am, decided to pass on acareer in politics. Right now I’m just waiting for Larry to get back on hisfeet so we can go out and have one of our famous abbreviated lunches.

I say that because every time we met for lunch he had to leave early togo help someone, or speak on behalf of an important cause. Larry hasalways put the needs of others first, and that’s why state government willnever be the same without him around to do our bidding.Let’s be clear. No one will EVER be able to fill Larry Womble’s bigshoes or imitate his ingratiating smile, but rest assured, Larry will bethere to help whomever tries.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11am on WMYV (cable channel 15)