by Sarah Curry
Director of Fiscal Policy Studies
State Senator Martin Nesbitt, a veteran lawmaker from the Asheville area, died Thursday. He was 67. His death came 10 days after he was diagnosed with stomach cancer.
Senator Nesbitt was first seated in the North Carolina legislature in 1979. He was appointed to replace his late mother, Representative Mary Nesbitt, and served until his death this week.
He served 11 terms in the N.C. House and 5 terms in the N.C. Senate, amounting to more than 30 years in office.
Below is a photo of the North Carolina flag at the General Assembly at half mast. Gov. Pat McCrory ordered flags at state buildings be lowered to half staff in his honor. The other photo is Senator Nesbitt debating in the Senate Chamber during the 2013 session (photo from News & Observer).
Here are some excerpts from a News & Observer article about Senator Nesbitt:
“He was a giant figure,” said Sen. Dan Blue, a former House speaker who entered the legislature about the same time as Nesbitt. “He had a sense of mountain populism that ran through him and he sensed that his major charge was to look out for the average everyday person.”
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, who served with Nesbitt in the legislature, said, “North Carolina has lost a great leader.”
Nesbitt’s current and former colleagues remembered his commanding presence in size and persona, recalling his warm demeanor and penchant for telling rambling stories on the Senate floor to illustrate his point.
“He was very garrulous, always full of stories, many of which you heard more than once,” state Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat, recalled. “He was a large mountain man but gentle and with a very big heart.”
Nesbitt returned home to Asheville the day before his death to a hero’s welcome. He rode in an ambulance escorted by sheriff’s deputies as well-wishers lined the road waving “get well soon” signs and American flags. Others drove race cars, an ode to his love of stock car racing and his days on the pit crew of his son’s racing team.