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'We called her Kay': Friends and family remember Sen. Kay Hagan

GREENSBORO — Former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan’s children recalled their mother’s wit and infectious smile, fierce love and laughable idiosyncrasies during a memorial service celebrating her life at the church that had been her spiritual home for decades.

Daughter Jeanette Hagan recalled 4 a.m. California-time calls from her mom, who was lost in Washington traffic.

“The mom who sang off-key but didn’t care and would sing anyway,” son Tilden Hagan IV told an overflow audience at First Presbyterian Church, then listed more. “The mom who would call every dog we ever had a ‘him,’ even though we only had female dogs.”

She was also the mom who would wake her children on Christmas morning to go make breakfast and help out at the Bell House, the Greensboro residential center that once housed people with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, so the staff could spend that time with their families.

Daughter Carrie Hagan Stewart repeated a comment from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer about her mother: “She was an amazing force, never loud, but always strong.”

Hagan, known for her advocacy, especially for teachers and military families, died Oct. 28 at 66 after battling complications from a tick bite for more than three years. The rare virus led to brain inflammation that made it difficult for her to speak and walk.

“Mom never knew what life would throw at her, and that was OK,” daughter Jeanette Hagan said.

She was eulogized with an American flag draped across her coffin and musical selections that included “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes.

More than 1,200 people packed the main sanctuary of the church where she was an elder and former Sunday school teacher. N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper and former U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) were among those who spoke. Hagan’s husband of 40 years, businessman Chip Hagan, acknowledged others, including U.S. senators Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), former N.C. Gov. Jim Hunt and N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein.

Chip Hagan also thanked the rows of former staffers and campaign volunteers, many who flew in from across the country to be there.

As he rose to speak, Cooper lovingly touched Hagan’s coffin before noting the young people Hagan motivated to serve in public office, including some on his staff.

“From presidents to people at home, we called her Kay,” Cooper said.

The governor recalled trying to recruit Democrats to run for public office during his time in the North Carolina Senate and finding out that Hagan was planning to run for a seat.

“We found out pretty soon we had struck gold,” Cooper said. “Kay went to Raleigh and our state was better for it. She blazed many trails. She never forgot what mattered. She never forgot who mattered.”

Hagan, a former banker, served 10 years as a state legislator before besting Elizabeth Dole in the 2008 U.S. Senate race. Hagan served a single term before losing to Republican Thom Tillis in 2014.

McCaskill elicited laughs while sharing the story of a freshman Kay Hagan wanting to use the tiny Senate swimming pool, the one that women didn’t use because some of their male comrades liked to swim naked. The junior senator, who loved to swim, soon got the rules changed.

But she will be remembered for so much more, McCaskill said of Hagan, whose assignments included the Committee on Armed Services.

“She was substance, head down, hard at work — no grandstanding — working to elevate the voices that had no lobbyist,” McCaskill said.

Her love of her grandchildren, who she enjoyed taking to the library, was recounted. So were the moments when her selflessness came back to her. The nurse who cared for Hagan was the daughter of a woman Hagan had helped immigrate to the U.S.

Retired former First Presbyterian Pastor Sid Batts, who had been her pastor for two decades, spoke of how important Hagan’s faith had been to her.

He recalled that he was leaving Moses Cone Hospital when he got a phone call from Hagan, who the summer before had traveled to Cuba on a church mission trip.

“It was Kay, who was the calmest of the calm, and saying in a distressed voice, ‘Have you seen the ad?’ ” Batts said.

The ad was a political attack run by Dole’s supporters in the Senate race. It portrayed Hagan as a “godless American.” At the end of it, Batts said, a voice that could have been mistaken for Hagan’s could be heard saying, “There is no God.”

It couldn’t have been further from the truth, Batts said.

“What bothered her was much more than being attacked,” Batts said. “It was that her deeply held faith was being smeared. Kay’s faith honored God. It was her ‘north,’ her true compass.”


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Interfaith service commemorates 40th anniversary of Greensboro Massacre with stirring messages and memories

GREENSBORO — It’s not enough to remember.

That was one of the emotional pleas made Sunday during an interfaith worship service to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Greensboro Massacre.

“Greensboro must change. We have a lot of work to do, my friends,” the Rev. Johnny Hill, dean of Shaw Divinity School in Raleigh, told those gathered at Greensboro’s Shiloh Baptist Church.

It is crucial to “remember rightly,” he said, how members of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party killed five anti-Klan marchers and wounded 10 others on Nov. 3, 1979.

“There is no justice without reconciliation,” Hill said.

The Rev. Cardes Brown, pastor of New Light Missionary Baptist Church and president of the Greensboro chapter of the NAACP, said the city needs to acknowledge it didn’t protect people like it should have.

“If we’re going to be one city, there has to be confession and repentance,” Brown said just prior to the service. “It’s about the soul of the city. Confession is good for the soul.”

In 2004, the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created to objectively review what transpired that day. In October, the Greensboro Pulpit Forum, a local ministerial alliance, called on the city to make an apology “of substance” involving police conduct. City officials in the past have admitted to police tactical errors but haven’t offered an apology.

Brown, who served on that commission, said the city “needs to admit they knew the Klan had the weaponry to do that harm. There’s been no acknowledgement. No admission.”

In her welcome message at Sunday’s service, Greensboro Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson told the audience that, while not on council at that time, she was saddened “because we did not do what we should have done” as a city.

Her remarks prompted many in the audience to stand and applaud.

During the service, the names of the victims were read aloud: Sandra Neely Smith, a 28-year-old nurse and former student body president at Bennett College; Cesar Vicente Cauce, a 25-year-old Cuban immigrant who had graduated magna cum laude from Duke University; William Evan Sampson, 31, a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School; physicians Dr. Michael Ronald Nathan, 32, and Dr. James Michael Waller, 36.

John Cox of Charlotte was among those who felt powerful emotions rushing back during the service. He was a newspaper carrier and a student at Grimsley High School on that day 40 years ago.

“It was a massacre of innocent people,” said Cox, now a professor and the director of the UNC-Charlotte Center for Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Studies. He believes that this event likely had a profound influence on his career path as a community activist.

The Rev. Herbert Nelson II, leader of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA, addressed a culture of growing hatred, saying “the Klan is still accepting trainees.”

In a passionate delivery, Nelson, the event’s keynote speaker, said: “The time to engage is now. ... We must see ourselves as bigger than we do now.”

Shiloh’s pastor, the Rev. Steve Allen, said the church wanted to host a service to acknowledge that all lives are precious and to help the community continue to heal.

“I think we all really want the same things,” Allen said. “Start in your community. Start by treating others as you would want to be treated. Teach it, live it, practice it.”