Longtime NC Republican Congressman Jim Broyhill dies at 95

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Sunday, February 19, 2023
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Jim Broyhill, a longtime North Carolina Republican congressman who served briefly in the U.S. Senate to fill a vacancy before losing a bid to keep the job, died early Saturday at age 95, his family said.

Broyhill, a scion of the Broyhill Furniture business in the North Carolina foothills that brought jobs and prestige to the region, died at Arbor Acres retirement home in Winston-Salem, according to his son, Ed. He had suffered from congestive heart failure for years that worsened in recent months, his son said Saturday.

The moderate Republican served more than 23 years in the House. He was considered a reliable conservative who helped North Carolina turn into a competitive two-party state, particularly as the GOP made national gains in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan.

In a video interview in honor of receiving a state award in 2015, Broyhill recalled the dearth of Republicans on the first state ballot he filled out in 1948.

"I was determined that I'm going to do what I could to see if we could not develop a two-party system in our state," Broyhill said. "And I think I had a great deal to accomplish that, but with the help and the leadership of many other people."

GOP Gov. Jim Martin appointed Broyhill to replace Republican Sen. John East when East died by suicide in June 1986.

Broyhill had already won the Senate GOP primary a month earlier against David Funderburk, who had the support of Sen. Jesse Helms' national organization that backed hardline Republicans. East wasn't seeking reelection due to medical issues.

President Ford with NC Congressman Jim Broyhill, left and Sen. Jesse Helms in 1975. Broyhill died early Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023, in Winston-Salem at the age of 95. (AP Photo, File)

The Senate appointment was viewed as an asset to help Broyhill in his fall general election against former Gov. Terry Sanford, a Democrat and outgoing Duke University president. Sanford narrowly defeated Broyhill in two elections that November -- one to serve out the rest of 1986 and another for the next six years.

Expected initially to be a low-key affair, the campaign took on the intensity of a modern, more divisive campaign. Reagan came to Charlotte to campaign for Broyhill. In a recent interview, Martin said he's unsure whether appointing Broyhill to the Senate ultimately aided his campaign.

"He wasn't able to spend as much time campaigning because he was intensely dependable on fulfilling his Senate duties," Martin said.

Broyhill's Capitol Hill career began with a surprising U.S. House victory in 1962.

When Democrats attempted to redraw the district of the lone Republican in the House delegation after the 1960 census in hopes of defeating him, the adjoining district became more Republican, according to a biography of Martin. That opened the door for Broyhill, who had worked at the family business for close to two decades, to upset Democratic incumbent Hugh Quincy Alexander.

While he never served in a Republican-controlled chamber until his Senate appointment, Broyhill flexed his political muscles for Republican presidential administrations in the House and built support for their agendas with Democrats.

In the interview highlighting his 2015 award, Broyhill recalled legislation he helped pass to create the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Broyhill's family and others cited his efforts to create energy policies, and deregulate the telecommunications, pharmaceutical and trucking industries.

Frank Drendel, founder of coaxial cable producer CommScope based in Hickory, said on Saturday that Broyhill's work to get a law passed in 1978 so that cable companies could connect their cables to other utility poles helped the cable industry soar.

Broyhill "set an example that sadly we don't have much of today and that is to cross the aisle and come up with solutions that are nonpartisan," said former Glaxo Wellcome CEO Bob Ingram, a North Carolina resident who knew Broyhill while working in Washington. "He wanted to get to the best answer to solve problems."

After his 1986 defeat, Broyhill served on North Carolina's Economic Development Board. Martin later picked him to serve in his second-term Cabinet as commerce secretary, saying he had "impeccable connections with North Carolina industry."

A native of Lenoir, James Thomas Broyhill graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1950, according to his official congressional biography. His father, J.E. Broyhill, began the family's furniture dynasty in 1926 as the Lenoir Chair Company and was a well-known Republican in his own right.

"Jim added to that and made his contribution in a huge way as a member of Congress," Martin said. "That family tradition has given an enormous boost to the Republican Party." Ed Broyhill is now a Republican National Committee member.

Recently retired Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who was recruited by Broyhill to run for Congress more than 30 years ago, said he would be remembered as "a gentlemen and a statesman," and called him a "mentor and confidant."

"I always knew I could trust his advice and counsel because he viewed everything through the lens of what's best for the country," Burr said.

Current Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper praised Broyhill on Saturday in a tweet for his commitment and service to the state.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel released the following statement on the passing of Senator James T. Broyhill: "I join the entire state of North Carolina and the Republican Party in mourning the loss of an exemplary leader. Senator Broyhill, the father of North Carolina National Committeeman Ed Broyhill and the son of North Carolina National Committeeman J.E. Broyhill, carried on his family's commitment to public service, serving the Tar Heel State at the state and federal levels. The prayers of the Republican National Committee are with Ed and the Broyhill family, the State of North Carolina, and the entire country as we mourn the loss of a passionate conservative and celebrate his lifelong public service."

The congressman was preceded in death by his son, Philip. In addition to Ed Broyhill, other survivors of Broyhill include his wife of 71 years, Louise R. Broyhill; his daughter, Marilyn Broyhill Beach of Winston-Salem; six grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

Broyhill's funeral will be Feb. 28 at Centenary United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem, with a graveside service later that day in Wilkes County.