Thank you, Jim Broyhill

Published February 23, 2023

By Tom Campbell

In the Pantheon of notable North Carolina public servants none stands so tall as Jim Broyhill.

The Broyhill family story is essentially the North Carolina story. Starting from humble beginnings, family members learned to work hard, persevere, be humble and serve others.

Jim’s father started at age 11, working as a blacksmith, lumberman, logger and ultimately furniture maker. Ed Broyhill’s mantra was, “God forges us on an anvil of adversity for a purpose known only to him.” He started Lenoir Chair Company to provide low priced furniture. It evolved into Broyhill Industries with a payroll of 7,500.

Ed Broyhill was a Republican in the era when our state was overwhelmingly Democratic. Just about every big-name national Republican came to Lenoir to discuss politics with Ed. Jim Broyhill remembers many discussions around the family kitchen table. Not only did he listen, but they helped to form his own political philosophy.

After graduating from Carolina, Jim came into what was by then a successful family enterprise, learning the business and making his mark by helping develop a highly successful national sales force. He also adopted the family value in giving back and serving others, becoming a leader in his local chamber, community endeavors and national furniture trade associations.

He fell in love and married the beautiful and gracious Louise and started a family, but politics was always a strong interest and in 1962 he made his first foray into becoming a candidate.

The Democratic controlled legislature wanted to rid the state of the only Republican in our Congressional delegation, Charles R. Jonas. After the 1960 census, Democratic legislators figured a way to eliminate Jonas by gerrymandering his congressional district, moving many of his Republican voters into a new district. This backfired on them because in so doing, they formed a new ninth district that was more competitive. Jim saw an opportunity and seized it, defeating a five term Democrat. The end result was two Republicans representing our state in Congress.

In Washington, the young Carolinian quietly and deliberately learned how things worked in congress and how to get things accomplished by making allies in both parties. He landed a spot on the House Commerce Committee and it became the launching pad to create a record of effectiveness rarely seen by a North Carolina representative from either party Congressman Broyhill was effective in enlisting members of both parties to sponsor and pass significant legislation.  

People in the foothills or our state will tell you Broyhill’s most important contribution was that he “wrote the book” on outstanding constituent service. I remember well that whenever those of us in broadcasting had a position or needed to get legislation passed Jim Broyhill was the first call made. He was always willing to listen, consider, and if he thought an idea worthy, would pursue it. We weren’t alone. It’s no wonder he was re-elected 10 times by huge margins, converting his congressional district into the highest Republican registration in the state.

In July 1986, Governor Jim Martin prevailed on Broyhill to fill an unexpired US Senate term and he complied. After losing the seat in the November election (the only election he ever lost), Jim returned to Lenoir, but not for long. Martin asked him to serve as Secretary of Commerce and he was influential in attracting new business to our state. Upon his retirement he remained active, especially in the Broyhill Foundation’s efforts to help others.

But merely citing Jim Broyhill’s record, outstanding as it was, doesn’t help us understand the man. He remained a stalwart Republican, but not today’s loud, headline-seeking, combative and divisive kind. He always looked to involve himself in the betterment of our state and in making a positive difference. No wonder leaders from both parties who knew Jim Broyhill are paying glowing tributes to him in death.

To be welcomed into Jim and Louise’s home was to see grace and hospitality in action. Yes, there were a plethora of pictures displaying the Broyhills with presidents and politicians, but just as many of his family and times together. I was privileged to spend time with him in 2012, producing a 90-minute television interview with him and having him recall his life and times. It was a rich moment with this hero of mine. He was so humble he would deflect accolades and or recognition of his achievements. That was Jim Broyhill.

Jim Broyhill was a citizen of the nation, a cheerleader for our state and a mentor for many.

We will not likely see Jim’s likes again. Webster would be hard pressed to amass enough superlatives to describe this son of North Carolina. The best and most lasting tribute we could pay him would be to learn from him, to live as he lived and serve as he served.