‘Self-made’ Senator succumbs

Published 8:55 pm Wednesday, September 10, 2008

LEWISTON – Joseph Julian “Monk” Harrington never cracked open a Political Science book in college.

As a matter of fact, he never attended college, but yet through hard work and determination became one of the most powerful politicians in North Carolina history.

That “self-made” State Senator, who retired from public service in 1991 after 28 consecutive years, died peacefully in his sleep early Wednesday morning. He was 89.

A celebration of life service will be conducted at 2 p.m. on Friday, September 12 at First Baptist Church of Lewiston- Woodville with burial to follow in Hoggard Memorial Cemetery. The family will receive friends at Garrett Funeral Home-Ashley Chapel, 205 NC Highway 42 West, Ahoskie, from 7-8:30 p.m. on Thursday and other times at the home. A complete obit can be found in today’s print edition on page 6A and online at www.r-cnews.com.

Harrington lived a wonderful life. He was the epitome of “local boy makes good.”

“The thing I remember most about daddy and his politics was that he was a man of his word,” said son Julian P. “Pike” Harrington of Ahoskie. “He loved working with people….a true people person. Once he was elected that first time, he went to Raleigh and earned the respect of those in the state’s political arena. Back at home, he still had that same respect and admiration because it’s like I said before, he was a people person.”

Pike Harrington recalled his father becoming involved in politics in 1959-60 when the now late US Congressman L.H. Fountain asked Monk Harrington to be his campaign manager in Bertie County.

“Daddy fell in love with politics from that point forward,” Pike Harrington said. “He was elected to the Senate for the first time in 1963 and was never defeated in any subsequent elections.”

Senator Harrington went on to serve 28 years in the State Senate, the last four as Pro Tempore, the highest ranking office in that legislative branch of government.

Harrington was also a unique politician due to his lack of a college education.

“Daddy, like so many hard-working men of his time in Bertie County and all throughout the area, didn’t have the means to go to college….he learned all he needed to know through the sweat of his brow.”

Friends and former colleagues of Harrington’s had nothing but fond memories of the man.

Windsor Mayor Bob Spivey, who served on numerous committees with Harrington over the years, remembered his friend as a legendary man.

“Monk was just one of those legendary people whose good works will forever live on. He did so many things to help, and so many things that touched the lives of people,” Spivey noted.

He continued, “He was just a legendary individual that not many are like… he certainly impacted the life of Senator (the current Pro Tempore of the State Senate) Mark Basnight. I can remember times when they talked together and I’ve heard Senator Basnight remark on what an impact Senator Harrington had on his life when he first became a senator and came through the ranks. Monk took him under his wing and helped to guide him.”

Former State House Representative Gene Rogers (then District 6 – parts of Bertie, Martin, Hertford, Pitt and Washington counties), who served alongside Harrington in the late 1980s, also praised Harrington’s good works and kind heart.

“Monk was a fine gentleman in every regard, that was evident to everybody. I got to participate in a lot of campaigning with him and also he and I served in the same area, so I got to know him as a senator very well,” Rogers recalled.

He continued, “Monk was in a very good position to do a lot of good work for our people down here. If anybody needed some help, he was always willing to lend a hand and see what he could do for them.”

Rogers added, “He was a very esteemed, honorable and involved man. I’ve always very much respected him and regarded him highly from a social standpoint as well as for his skills as a legislator.”

Norman Cherry, current chairman of the Bertie County Commissioners and a retired educator, has known Senator Harrington since just after he graduated from college more than 40 years ago.

“Back in those days, right after I graduated from college, teachers were not paid year-round as they are now. As a new teacher fresh out of college with a brand new family, you have to have a salary year-round. So what Mr. Harrington did for many of us is he gave us jobs at the Harrington Manufacturing Company (in Lewiston) during the summertime,” Cherry remembered.

He continued, “I worked there for 19 years during the summertime… it got to the point where he knew that several of us – including Commissioner Charles Smith and Judge Cy Grant – were going to start there as soon as school got out, so we didn’t even have to apply, we just went to work.”

Cherry added, “That’s just the kind of man he was… he really did believe in providing employment, especially for the people of this county. He was also very instrumental in working with the former Governor Bob Scott in getting many of the roads in Bertie County paved. I have nothing but good things to say about him.”

Cherry noted that Harrington’s peers and those on the receiving end of his never-ending goodwill were the ones who dubbed him “Monk.”

“We affectionately called him ‘Monk’ because he was such a good person… and the name stuck,” he stated.

Senator Harrington was instrumental in convincing state officials that the local area needed another major north-south highway. Thusly, NC 11 was born. In his honor, the NC 11 bridge over the Roanoke River bears Harrington’s name.

Harrington was also a giant within his local community, serving his church as a Deacon and Sunday School Superintendent. His family business, Harrington Manufacturing, was a mainstay in the local area for years. At its peak, the agricultural equipment company employed well over 100 people. It’s “Roanoke” line of products remain in use today, thus always ensuring the legacy of this self-taught man.

(Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald Staff Writer Jennipher Dickens contributed to this story.)