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″Senator Sam” Ervin Comes Home to Morganton

April 24, 1985 GMT

MORGANTON, N.C. (AP) _ The body of former Sen. Sam J. Ervin Jr. was taken home Wednesday to the Blue Ridge foothills he loved and where people knew him as ″just plain folks,″ despite an illustrious career capped by his role in the Watergate hearings.

Ervin, 88, died Tuesday in Winston-Salem of respiratory failure. He will be buried Friday in Forest Hills Cemetery after a funeral at the First Presbyterian Church in Morganton.

After two decades in Washington, Ervin retired from the Senate in 1974 and went home ″to watch those glorious Burke County sunsets.″

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Even after retirement he amazed colleagues half his age with energetic legal research, witty books and articles, lengthy interviews and letters to politicians - all inspired by the Constitution.

″He had such a quest or thirst for the law, for perfection in legal principles, that he couldn’t wait to finish his breakfast so he could get to his library,″ said Robert B. Byrd, a Morganton lawyer whose firm hired Ervin several times in the past few years for help on constitutional cases. ″He stayed busy all day long.″

Until about a year ago, when arthritis forced him to spend most of his time at his modest brick house in this town of 14,000, Ervin drove to his law office every day, and also found time to socialize.

″He walked uptown to the post office six days a week, just to stop and speak to people and take and give advice,″ said Mayor Andrew Kistler.

″He was just plain folks. There was no pretense about Sam,″ Kisler added.

Last year, Ervin worked tirelessly on his third book: ″Preserving the Constitution: The Autobiography of Sen. Sam Ervin.″ He also wrote numerous letters to newspapers on constitutional matters, along with a column on growing old.

″He said that so long as a man has his mind and intellect, the aging process will never bother you,″ said Byrd. ″His body was tired, but his mind was keen - even when he could hardly hobble.″

During an interview last summer, Ervin walked with a cane and appeared gaunt. But his eyes showed the same flashes of indignation and twinkles of merriment they did during the Watergate hearings that led to President Nixon’s downfall.

He pounded his desk when he said that President Reagan’s″efforts to exploit religion for political purposes″ were a threat to the Constitution.

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″There have always been people insociety who wanted to regulate other people’s beliefs,″ he said.

But minutes later, Ervin smiled wryly as he recalled fighting a proposed constitutional amendment permitting school prayer in 1966.

″I prayed that it would go way off somewhere and never come back to bother the Senate,″ he said. ″Well, the Bible says that the fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. ... My prayer was not answered. ... I knew I prayed fervently ... so I decided I wasn’t righteous.″