By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
October 23, 2012
WINSTON-SALEM — The N.C. General Assembly lost a true conservative warrior this week with the death of Republican Sen. Don East (Surry), 67, Monday at Forsyth Medical Center. According to media reports, he had undergone back surgery after which he developed a fatal blood clot.
“Sen. Don East I considered a real friend,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “It was not uncommon for him to affectionately call me ‘Preacherman.'”
“When it came to the issues, Sen. East’s door was always open to the Christian Action League. We may have had some minor differences on legislation, but overall he stood with us,” Dr. Creech added.
During seven terms in the Senate since 1994, East represented the 30th District, which included Alleghany, Surry, Stokes and Yadkin counties. A resident of Pilot Mountain, he was set to face Democrat Ric Marshall in next month’s election for the redesigned 30th District that would include Wilkes County, but not Alleghany and Yadkin.
Rep. Dale Folwell (R-Forsyth) said this week that Sen. East kept his constituents foremost in mind while at the Legislature.
“Before Sen. East voted, he always thought about his people back home,” Folwell told the Winston-Salem Journal.
Others remembered East as tough-skinned character who refused to back down from a challenge.
“He was tough as nails based on his many years on the street as a police officer, kind of exactly the guy you want next to you in the foxhole,” Sen. Pete Brunstetter (R-Forsyth) told the media.
Dr. Creech put it this way: “Sen. East may have had a rough exterior about him, but he was sensitive and compassionate. And though he may have strongly disagreed with something and expressed his concerns in a demonstrative fashion, he was not lacking in civility.”
He remembered an occasion when the Senator invited him into his office to fellowship with other lawmakers and staff, to “laugh together and to discuss politics.”
“I was sharing my faith, and everyone was listening intently. When I finished, Senator East surprised me with a request. He said, ‘Reverend, won’t you please lead us in prayer?’ And in what was a very solemn and intensely spiritual moment for all of us in the room, I gladly obliged. There we all were holding hands with heads reverently bowed, honoring God and looking to Him for His mercies,” Rev. Creech said. “You don’t forget moments like that among friends.”
Another unforgettable moment, this one on the Senate floor, came in January of this year when Sen. East rose to debate a bill that would alter the Racial Justice Act and shared a painful personal story about the death of his father, a law enforcement officer murdered in the line of duty, whose killer eventually died in prison. He said the RJA was a blatant attempt to end the death penalty and asked lawmakers to override the Governor’s veto of the bill that would have greatly lessened its effect. Although the override wasn’t accomplished that day, the Legislature did successfully pass Senate Bill 416, Amend Death Penalty Procedures, in July.
“Some people mistakenly think everyone in politics is corrupt. It just isn’t true. There are men like Don East who serve because they want to see people in our state do better in life,” Dr. Creech said. “They’re thoughtful and like East, they have strong convictions and believe in defending what they know in their hearts to be true.”
Sen. East, whose wife died in 2007, is survived by his daughter and two grandsons. The Senator’s funeral is set for 2 p.m. Friday at Poplar Springs Church of Christ in King with burial in the church cemetery, after which the family will receive friends at the church. Memorials may be made to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund at 901 E. St. NW, Ste. 100, Washington, D.C. 20004-2025.