GREENSBORO — U.S. Rep. Howard Coble, the longest-serving Republican U.S. House member in North Carolina history, has died. He was 84.
Coble, who served for 30 years on Capitol Hill before declining to run for re-election in 2014, died just before midnight Tuesday at a Greensboro hospital, his nephew Ray Coble Jr. said Wednesday. He had been hospitalized since September after treatment for skin cancer and the removal of some lymph nodes, Coble Jr. said.
Richmond County’s congressman, Rep. Richard Hudson, posted a photo of himself standing beside Coble on his Facebook page Wednesday morning.
“Renee and I were saddened to learn of the passing of my friend Howard Coble,” Hudson, R-Concord, said in a statement. “Howard dedicated his life to serving North Carolina and did so with the utmost honor, integrity and kindness. He never met a stranger and set the standard for constituent service. We join North Carolina in mourning the loss of a true gentleman and faithful public servant, but find comfort in knowing Howard has found peace with our Savior. We will continue to keep his family and friends in our prayers during this difficult time.”
Coble cited nagging health issues in announcing in 2013 that his 15th term in Congress representing the 6th District would be his last. He had a long military and political career, including nearly 30 years in the Coast Guard. He was an assistant federal prosecutor, state revenue secretary under Gov. Jim Holshouser and state House member before his initial 1984 congressional victory.
“North Carolina not only lost a wonderful public servant and congressmen, but our state also lost a friend and mentor to so many, including myself,” Gov. Pat McCrory said in a statement.
The Greensboro native was perhaps best known in Congress for refusing to take a congressional pension in the name of fiscal conservatism and leading a subcommittee on intellectual property issues and the Internet as the Internet’s influence grew exponentially.
News of Coble’s death quickly spread throughout the state overnight Tuesday and early Wednesday. State Senate leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, lives in the congressional district Coble represented for three decades.
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Howard Coble, who was not only my congressman but also my mentor and friend,” Berger said in a release. “Congressman Coble was a true North Carolina conservative who cared deeply for his constituents and usually knew them by name. I join those all across our state who are grieving this loss, but I know his long legacy of public service will not be forgotten.”
N.C. Republican Party Chairman Hasan Harnett echoed fellow party leaders’ sentiments.
“Today is a sad day in North Carolina, as we say goodbye to Congressman Howard Coble,” Harnett said. “Congressman Howard Coble dedicated his entire life to serving the public and represented the sixth district of North Carolina with great honor and integrity. Strong in character, Congressman Coble modeled for all of North Carolina and Washington the values of a true leader. We are thankful to have been blessed with such an honorable, sincere and authentic leader for so many years and pray for his family and friends during this time.”
Coble, who never married, was considered a character from an era of old-school politics and focused less on ideology. Often seen wearing a fedora and mosaic sport jacket, Coble made his career by shaking hands with constituents in the 6th District, which most recently included several north-central counties, anchored by Greensboro.
He was proud of his accessibility to voters, noting that he had participated in more than 200 local Christmas parades and 200 Boy Scout Eagle Scout ceremonies. Coble said he always knew there was a short leash on members of Congress, who were up for election every two years.
“I held that seat, folks, subject to two-year leases, subject to revocation or renewal,” Coble said during his 2013 announcement to retire. “Renewal’s always better given that choice.”
Republican Mark Walker, who succeeded Coble, said Coble was “one of a kind. He was a gentleman and one of the most sincere and kindest people I’ve ever known.”