Jesse Helms worshipped at Raleigh's Hayes Barton Baptist Church. Wesley Williams remembers meeting him many years ago, back when both were young men.
"I then was the executive director for the Raleigh Merchants Bureau. I had that job starting when I was 20 years of age.," said Williams on Sunday."And Jesse would come by, as a cub reporter from the Raleigh Times, almost every day, begging for something to write about. He just needed a local story!"
He watched Helms become the local, then a national and international story--as a conservative voice with passionate supporters and critics.
"Whatever he believed in," Williams told Eyewitness News, "he didn't hesitate to speak out about it."
Williams was not surprised to see Helms transition from print journalism to broadcasting, then politics: "I knew he would rise, and when he got to the city council I said, 'well, that's it.' But Jesse was a man who you just could not stop. I didn't agree with him on a lot of things, but I admired the courage of his convictions."
Other long time church members recall Helms as a man who cared about the sick and shut in. The former pastor's wife smiles while sharing her husband's description of a pastoral hospital visit.
Helen Cashwell said he told her: "While I was visiting the phone rang in so and so's room. And it was Senator Helms, calling to see if they needed anything...he was very much a person who looked after those who needed help."
Nearly every member of Hayes Barton Baptist church has a Senator Helms story. That's why. with the addition of people from across the state and the nation in town to pay their respects, they're expecting a capacity crowd Tuesday for Senator Helms' funeral service.
"We can comfortably seat 800," said church spokesperson Barbara Jean Warren." We think that we'll be able to accommodate up to 1500 people."