Congressman Walter Jones was laid to rest Thursday following a funeral service at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Greenville. The 3rd Congressional District representative died Sunday on his 76th birthday.
A Marine Corps Honor Guard escorted Jones' flag-draped casket into the church service under a clear blue sky. Hundreds of people, including Gov. Roy Cooper and current and former members of Congress, attended the funeral Mass for Jones.
State Sen. Harry Brown said the military, especially the Marine Corps, was dear to Walter Jones' heart.
"If you talk to the veterans in my district, they will all tell you that they just thought the world of Congressman Jones," Brown said.
Brown is an Onslow County Republican. His district includes Camp Lejeune, the sprawling Marine base, part of the area Walter Jones represented in Congress for 24 years.
Brown noted Jones was a special brand of politician.
"You didn't pressure Walter Jones into doing anything he didn't really want to do and that's why he was so respected, I think," Brown said.
Jones' independence was a common theme in the eulogies and remembrances shared by those who attended his funeral.
"You know, you admire independence when it's rooted in conscience and that was true for Walter," said Congressman David Price, a Democrat who has represented North Carolina's 4th district for more than 20 years.
Price knew Walter Jones long enough to recall Jones' days as a young Democrat working on Jimmy Carter's 1976 presidential campaign.
"I have a picture on my desk of a very young-looking group of campaign operatives who were good friends and of course remained in touch ever since," Price said.
Jones served as a Democrat in the North Carolina General Assembly but he switched to the GOP when he ran for Congress in 1994.
But Jones did not always march in lock-step with his party. Price said Jones gave party leaders fits and consequently missed out on key promotions and posts. But Price pointed out that people of many political persuasions attended Thursday's funeral, bound together by a friendship with Jones.
Price said he will remember his friend sitting in the same place in the chamber of the U.S. House, greeting people with a ready wit and warmth not always seen in politics.
"On that center aisle, kind of symbolized where he was politically and he just kind of held court and people would come and talk to him, all sorts of people. I had many conversations with him there and it's hard to realize he'll no longer be there," Price said.
Jones may be remembered by many people for his repudiation of his initial vote in support of the invasion of Iraq, as well as his effort to rename items on U.S. Congressional cafeteria menus from French fries to Freedom fries, a slight aimed at France because of its opposition to the U.S.-led invasion.
But J.Y. Monk will remember much more personal, intimate moments with Jones.
Monk eulogized his childhood friend with whom he grew up in Farmville.
"Basketball, football, baseball, tennis and golf. Walter and I played them all together, and we played them well," Monk told the audience.
Monk and Jones remained close friends over the years but Monk said it was monthly, hours-long lunches he shared with Jones late in life where he really learned about his friend.
Jones, who had been a Southern Baptist, would talk about his deep faith and embrace of Catholicism.
And he shared his deep devotion of family, talking of wanting his wife, Joe Anne, and daughter, Ashley, to be happy and well cared for.
"Walter was one of the last of a dying breed. He was a kind, polite, positive, courteous man who made a good impression on everyone who met him," Monk said.
Rufus Edmisten, a Democrat and former North Carolina Secretary of State and Attorney General, said those qualities would be a significant part of Jones' legacy.
"The best thing we can do for Walter Jones' legacy is to emulate him in his kindness, his decency, his empathy for other people," Edmisten said.
Governor Roy Cooper will soon call for a special election to fill Jones' seat.
A reliably Republican district, it won't be hard to find a GOP candidate to succeed Jones but finding one who is as fiercely independent could be very difficult.