RALEIGH — One of North Carolina’s titans of 20th century politics died on Thursday, Sept. 14. Former U.S. Sen. Lauch Faircloth, who served from 1993-1999, died at his Sampson County home at the age of 95.
A conservative Democrat for much of his career, Faircloth was elected in 1992 to the U.S. Senate as a Republican. He served one term in the chamber, losing to Democrat John Edwards in 1998.
His career began as a farmer, businessman and campaign worker for Democrats. He would serve in the U.S. Army in 1954-55. His business prowess and political connections earned him appointments as the state’s commerce secretary during Gov. Jim Hunt’s two terms in office from 1977-1985.
Business was Lauch’s “hobby and passion,” family members said, as he took over the family farm before graduating high school and by the age of 22 had already started other businesses.
He ran for governor in 1984, finishing third in the primary. Faircloth almost lost his life during that bid, as a small plane he was traveling in hit water on a grassy runway, crashed through trees and skidded into a river. The Aug. 1983 incident nearly resulted in the deaths of the four on board and those in the crash attested that it was Faircloth who opened the door for them to escape.
He would subsequently run against a former ally, Terry Sanford, in his successful ’92 Senate campaign. Faircloth and Sanford were so close they even shared accommodations during the 1960 campaign of Kerr Scott for governor. After the bitter ‘92 campaign where they faced off, the two did reconcile prior to Sanford’s death.
While in the Senate, was one of the main authors of historic welfare reform including work requirements that President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996.
Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis said in a statement, “Sen. Faircloth was a dedicated public servant and statesman who was the embodiment of Sampson County values. Both Republicans and Democrats came to appreciate him as one of the most skilled political operators North Carolina has ever seen, and he also possessed the ability to make anyone laugh with his sharp sense of humor.”
An obituary for the late senator says in part, “the stories are legendary and far too many to recount here, but most stemmed from either his encyclopedic knowledge of particular moments and figures in history or his youth in a Sampson County that seemed to be a perfect cross of James Thurber and Lil Abner. In both cases he never let the truth stand in the way of a good tale.”
Faircloth, who was divorced, is survived by a daughter, Anne; his son-in-law, Frederick Beaujeu-Dufour; two grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.