Tears, laughter fill Hunter’s funeral service

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 12, 2007

AHOSKIE – Tears one minute…laughter the next; such was the funeral service here Thursday for a man hailed as a friend to all n North Carolina State House of Representative member Howard J. Hunter Jr.

With over 1,200 in attendance, the main sanctuary of Ahoskie’s Soul Saving Station was filled beyond capacity. The faces of state, county and municipal elected leaders and officials were too numerous to count.

They, along with hundreds of family members and friends, all came to pay their final respect to a man who had faithfully filled the role as a public servant for the better part of 30 years. Hunter, a 10-year member of the Hertford County Board of Commissioners, had spent the last 18 years in Raleigh as the Roanoke-Chowan area’s (5th District) representative in the State House. With his passing on Sunday, he was less than two weeks short of being sworn-in for his 10th term after winning another two years in office during last November’s General Election.

Despite health troubles over the final decade of his life, Hunter never backed down from his elected duties.

“Since he was taken ill, I’d always ask Howard at reelection time if he had the strength to continue,” said Hunter’s life long friend, Rev. Lycurgus Harrell of Gates County. “He would always respond that he would work until he was dead, and that’s exactly what he did.”

Hertford County Commissioner Dupont Davis, who served with Hunter on that board, had the audience laughing with stories of his friend.

“I remember the first time I saw Howard,” Davis recalled. “We were playing basketball against each other, he at C.S. Brown High School and me at R.L. Vann High School. He dribbled the ball upcourt and I didn’t know which way his feet were going. I almost fell over laughing. He told me not to worry which way his feet were going, but to worry where the ball was going.”

Davis went on to praise Hunter for all his work as a public servant, thanking him for the money he was able to direct to important programs in the local area.

“We can’t bring Howard back, but we can always cherish his memory,” Davis said.

Dan Blue, former NC Speaker of the House and still a member of the North Carolina General Assembly, said Hunter was a great leader.

“He found out what he was supposed to do in life and he went out and did it well,” Rep. Blue said. “There were so many things, so many bills in the House that were guided by his hands.”

For instance, Rep. Blue told a story about one of North Carolina’s most successful programs, Smart Start, that nearly never got off the ground.

“The (state) Senate had defeated the Smart Start bill, but Howard resurrected it in the House and now look at its success today,” Blue said.

Judge Toby Fitch read Hunter’s own words about how he was preparing for this day n a piece that sent a simple message of “temporary farewell until we meet again.”

After reading those words, Judge Fitch fixed his gaze upon the mahogany casket bearing the body of his best friend and said, “I love you Howard Hunter.”

Paulette Wester, Chairman of the Gates County Democratic Party, said the Roanoke-Chowan area as well as the entire state would miss this great public servant.

“He came to our rescue on many occasions,” Wester said. “He was a man who worked hard for his constituents.”

Others praising Hunter for his role as a dedicated public servant were State House Representative Alma Adams of Guilford County, who read a resolution in Hunter’s honor from the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus, and Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP.

Representatives from the offices of North Carolina Governor Mike Easley and United States Senator Elizabeth Dole brought condolences from the two high-ranking elected officials. Both presented flags to the Hunter family n a North Carolina flag and a United States flag. The U.S. flag was flown at the highest point in Washington, D.C.

Throughout the remarks from those state and local leaders, one underlying message was clear n Howard Hunter Jr. was a major force behind an effort to convince North Carolina’s governmental leaders to take away the Medicaid burden placed on the counties. Hunter’s son, Hertford County Commission Vice-Chairman Howard Hunter III, addressed that hot-topic political issue during the funeral.

“Dad wanted to stay and fight for Medicaid relief,” the younger Hunter said. “It that relief does come, don’t do it for my father; do it for the citizens of North Carolina.”

In his opening prayer, Bishop A.C. Robinson remarked that this was a time to express joy.

“Let us not be sad, let us be happy that Howard is no longer suffering,” he said. “There is no pain on Earth that Heaven cannot heal.”

Bishop Robinson continued, “Howard’s life is a testament to us all…no matter how bad you are beaten down, no matter how hard you must work in the vineyard, you can hold your head high and proud, as did Howard Hunter Jr.”

The service ended with a strong message from Rev. Robert Richardson III.

Speaking in regards of Hunter’s profession as a funeral director, Rev. Richardson said we all had now lost our “Moses.”

“Howard glowed in the darkness of our lives,” Rev. Richardson noted. “He was always there to give us compassion.”

As a legislator, Rev. Richardson praised Hunter’s work in Raleigh.

“He was a person who loved people,” Rev. Richardson observed. “We wanted to see the standard of living improve for the people of his district and in the state. Now our chariot has been taken away. Our voice has fallen silent. Who will be the next to grab the reigns of the chariot and become the voice of our area?”

Whoever that person may be, he or she best be prepared….they have one tough act to follow.