Goodwin keynote speaker at Sen. Sam Ervin memorial dinner

Ervin was chairman of Senate Watergate Committee

Special to The Pee Dee Post

The legacy of Sen. Sam J. Ervin Jr. will be honored at the 29th Sen. Sam Ervin Memorial Dinner beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 27 at the Morganton Community House.

Sen. Sam Ervin

Sen. Sam Ervin

Ervin put Morganton and Burke County on the map during his distinguished career. He was recognized as an expert on the United States Constitution. He is best remembered for serving as the Chair of the Watergate Hearings during the Nixon administration. A Democrat, he served as a U.S. Senator from North Carolina from 1954 to 1974.

North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin will be the keynote speaker. He has served in this capacity since election to the office in 2008. Goodwin was elected to his current position in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. Goodwin previously served as a Democratic member of the North Carolina General Assembly representing the state’s 68th House district, including constituents in Richmond and Stanly counties. His prior district — the 32nd House district — also included Scotland and Montgomery counties.

“It is quite humbling and personally exciting for me to be the keynote speaker for this annual event reflecting on a North Carolina ‘original,'” Goodwin said in an email to The Pee Dee Post. “Sen. Sam Ervin was a homespun, colorful, Constitutional expert who never forgot how he was raised.  He brought national acclaim to himself and North Carolina as he distilled truth and justice for a Nation in the face of the disgraced President Nixon who ultimately resigned.”

An attorney from Hamlet, Goodwin was a Morehead Scholar and U.S. Senate/William Randolph Hearst Scholar. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with honors in political science, where he was a member of the Dialectic and Philanthropic societies and then went on to graduate from the UNC School of Law.

After serving as President of the Young Democrats of North Carolina, Goodwin served four full terms in the state House. Goodwin served as the Assistant Commissioner of Insurance and Assistant State Fire Marshal for the State of North Carolina from 2005-08. In 2008, Goodwin filed to run for Commissioner of Insurance after the surprise retirement of longtime Commissioner Jim Long. Goodwin won re-election in the 2012 general contest by almost four percentage points.

Wayne Goodwin

Wayne Goodwin

Goodwin also has served as vice chairman of Southeast Zone of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and the chairman of various consumer protection-related committees on the national level.

Goodwin is married to Melanie Wade Goodwin, who also served three terms in the legislature. They have two children.

The life and times of Sen. Sam Ervin

A native of Morganton, Ervin liked to call himself a “country lawyer,” and often told humorous stories in his Southern drawl. He became a liberal hero for his support of civil liberties. He is remembered for his work in the investigation committees that brought down Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1954, and especially his investigation in 1972 and 1973 of the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation in 1974 of President Richard Nixon.

Ervin served in the U.S. Army in combat in France during World War I, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts. He graduated from the University of North Carolina, where he was a member of The Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies in 1917 and from Harvard Law School in 1922. Ervin was fond of joking that he was the only student ever to go through Harvard Law “backwards,” because he took the third-year courses first, then the second-year courses, and finally the first-year courses.

Already admitted to the bar in 1919, before completing law school, Ervin entered politics straight out of Harvard. Even before he had received his degree, Democrats in Burke County had nominated him in absentia for the North Carolina House of Representatives, to which he was elected in 1922, 1924 and 1930. Ervin also was elected and served as a state judge in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Ervin was serving as an associate justice of the N.C. Supreme Court when he was appointed in June 1954 by Gov. William B. Umstead to fill the U.S. Senate seat of Clyde Hoey, who had died in office. He ran successfully for the seat in November 1954.

Ervin gained lasting fame through his stewardship of the Senate Select Committee to Investigate Campaign Practices, also known as the Senate Watergate Committee, from the 1972 presidential election. Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield chose Ervin because it was unlikely Ervin was going to run for re-election in 1974, he had no aspirations beyond his office, his knowledge of the law and the Constitution, and because he was an even-keeled, conservative, independent-minded Democrat. President Nixon thought at first that Ervin might potentially be partial to him, but that turned out to not be the case.

Said Goodwin: “Sen. Ervin, though he lived several generations removed from many of us and had opinions on certain issues that are not accepted today, was a generation ahead of many fellow citizens on other issues as he advocated for protection of civil liberties, due process for all, freedom of information, the rule of law, and transparency in government, even before leading the charge in the Congressional hearings about the Watergate break-in and Nixon’s White House.”

Ervin resigned in December 1974, just before his term ended. After retirement, Ervin practiced law, wrote several books and appeared in various commercials for products. In 1973, Ervin was recorded on CBS Records on the LP record, Senator Sam at Home, which featured tracks of Ervin speaking his mind and telling anecdotes, separated by tracks of him singing popular songs.

Sam Ervin died in 1985. He was 88 years old.

Ervin’s office and personal library has been preserved as the “Senator Sam J. Ervin Jr. Library and Museum,” which is housed in the Phifer Learning Resource Center at Western Piedmont Community College.

Ervin’s son, Samuel J. Ervin III, was appointed in 1980 to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit by President Jimmy Carter. His grandson, Sam J. Ervin IV, was elected in 2008 to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Another grandson, Robert C. Ervin, was elected in 2002 as a North Carolina Superior Court Judge for District 25A.

A highlight of the evening will be comments from an Ervin family member. Traditionally, that has been his daughter-in-law, Betty Ervin, or one of his grandsons.

Joining Goodwin in attendance will be my nephew and fellow Richmond County native, Austin Andrews, currently a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill.  Ervin and Goodwin are alumni of the Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies at the University; Andrews is a current member and historian of the organization.

The event is sponsored by the Burke County Democratic Party. It will be held at the Morganton Community House. Tickets are required and can be purchased by calling 475-6198.

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