Remembering Larry Womble

Former representative Larry Womble, (D) NC-71

Former representative Larry Womble, (D) NC-71
In a world gone mad with partisan political bickering, gridlock, racist comments, obfuscations, and unethical stock transactions, we, as a society, have come to expect very little of our elected officials. Statesmanship, accountability, and leadership are in short supply these days, which is one reason why I am so saddened by the loss of Larry Womble. Larry had a distinguished career as an educator, legislator, and social activist. He moved mountains through the sheer power of impassioned persuasion, and helped to pass landmark legislation without alienating his opponents. He cared about others and put their needs above his own. He was a seminal figure in the history of our state, and he was my friend. Larry Womble passed away on May 14. He was 78.

Larry and I often referred to ourselves as a couple of Winston-Salem boys, but the issues he fought for were anything but provincial. He was responsible for repealing a law that allowed the state to sterilize someone against their will, and then he won compensation for victims of those sterilizations. He made us aware of racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and he gave us his personal guarantee that lottery funds would go to help schools. Larry also lobbied to require companies who built their fortune on the backs of slavery, to own up to their actions as a pre-requisite to doing business with the state.

On a personal note, Larry was a sounding board for me. One day at lunch I told him that I had been approached to run for office, and I asked his advice. “Are you prepared to devote all of your time to the job, and be away from home for weeks on end?, ”he asked. I said “No”, and that was the end of my short-lived political career. Larry knew that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, and that’s why he was always so supportive of Triad Today, on which he made a number of appearances.

One such visit to our studio came on September 2, 2005. He had just left Raleigh after an extended legislative session, and was about to board a plane for Africa. It was not his first trip to that continent, and I wondered why he kept returning there each year. Said Larry, “I was surprised on my first visit to Africa and some of the small villages, when the kids asked me, ‘could you send us some books?’ And I said I can do that, and I’ve been sending books over there ever since. If somebody is determined to have a book, they ought to have a book.”

Larry made good on that promise, and in just a few short years, he had delivered over 55,000 books to African children. What’s more, Larry paid for the books out of his own pocket. That was Larry. Always helping, always leading.

Politically, Larry was a Democrat, so his activism for racial justice and other social issues was not surprising. But he never let party politics take precedent over common sense and fair play. For example, once during an interview, I mentioned how the Libertarian Party couldn’t get on the ballot in North Carolina because it hadn’t met the threshold of garnering 10% of the vote in the previous election. Rather than toe the line in defense of the two-party system, Larry said, “I support moving the threshold down to 2%, because we need to open the doors for more political parties.” In effect, Larry was fighting for the rights of candidates who might one day run against him. That was Larry. Always helping, always leading.

Larry retired from public office in 2012 after sustaining debilitating injuries in an automobile crash, but he remained engaged in and informed about current events. He was still an activist even when he couldn’t be active.

During the controversy over Confederate statues, Larry’s friend and my buddy, Keith Grandberry remarked that the problem wasn’t so much about honoring so many white leaders, as it was not honoring any black leaders. I couldn’t agree more, and if we want to rectify that problem, then erecting a monument to Larry Womble would be a perfect place to start. I just hope that his statue is life size. I’d say about 20 feet tall would do it.

 
 

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