Longtime North Carolina congressman Walter Jones dies at 76

Long-serving North Carolina Republican lawmaker Walter Jones died on Sunday. He was 76.

Jones had been out of Congress on leave for months over an unknown health condition and was placed in hospice care in late January after getting surgery for a broken hip.

Jones was famous for coining the term “freedom fries,” and for his early support of the Iraq war, which he later came to regret.

The end of an era

Jones served North Carolina’s third district continuously for more than 20 years and was re-elected to serve a 13th term in an unopposed race in November. He died 76 years to the day after his birth in Farmville on Feb. 10, 1943.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper will schedule a special election to decide who will serve the rest of  Jones’ two-year term.

Jones was in the state legislature as a Democrat for a decade before he became a congressman in 1994. The late Republican first ran as a Democrat in 1992 to fill the vacancy left by his father, long-serving North Carolina Democratic congressman Walter Jones, Sr., but failed to win that year before changing parties and winning election to Congress in the state’s 3rd district two years later.

Jones underwent surgery in January at the Vidant Medical Center in Greenville after breaking his hip at home, and he had been unable to vote in Congress since September because of an undisclosed health condition. His family had announced more than two weeks ago that he was moved to hospice care and asked for privacy, leaving his health in doubt.

His office said: “Congressman Jones was a man of the people. With a kind heart and the courage of his convictions, he dedicated his life to serving his Savior and to standing up for Americans who needed a voice. He was a champion for our men and women in uniform and their families, always mindful of their service and sacrifice.” Jones’ office said in a statement posted to the congressman’s website.”

Critic of war in Iraq, advocate for soldiers

Tributes poured in for the long-serving lawmaker. North Carolina Republicans including Mark Meadows (R-NC) expressed condolences for their departed colleague.

“Deeply saddened by the passing of Walter Jones — a beloved colleague and friend who had a profound impact on all through his graciousness, character, and committed Christian faith. God be with and keep his family. We will miss him,” Meadows tweeted. Speaker Nancy Pelosi also issued a statement remembering Jones as a bipartisan “gentleman.”

Jones famously proposed renaming the House cafeteria’s French fries “freedom fries” after the French came out against the Iraq War. Jones was an early supporter of the war but eventually came to regret his decision.

“I did not do what I should have done to read and find out whether [former President George W.] Bush was telling us the truth about Saddam being responsible for 9/11 and having weapons of mass destruction,” Jones told North Carolina radio host Tyler Cralle in 2015. “Because I did not do my job then, I helped kill 4,000 Americans, and I will go to my grave regretting that.”

As a token of his regret, Jones sent thousands of letters to the families of fallen soldiers for years. He was also a soldiers’ advocate, fighting successfully to clear the names of two military pilots who were blamed for a deadly 2000 helicopter crash. His district included military installations like Camp Lejeune, and he had a memorial for soldiers at the camp who died in Iraq on a wall outside his office.

He is survived by his wife, Jo Anne, and their daughter, Ashley.

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