LOUISBURG - James Davis Speed - a farmer, a cattleman, a statesman and a gentleman passed away Wednesday, June 14, 2006.
At age 91, Speed’s energy and enthusiasm for public service never waned.
His attention to the business of the day was strong throughout his entire
life, which was accomplished, rich and purposeful in many arenas.
Committed to improvements and progress in agriculture and youth activities, dedicated to the betterment of his home Franklin County and a seeker of truth and fairness in government with the fortitude to create and foster change not only as an elected official on the floor of the N.C. Legislature and within the civic organizations to which he belonged but behind the scenes as a friend and comrade, Speed will be missed by many in countless circles where he enriched lives with his vision, passion and beloved humor and wit.
His contributions were primarily and by default in agriculture - his professed first love - although in his 32 years in the N.C. General Assembly the Democrat led issues on education, the environment, transportation, rescue services, economic development and aging.
Speed understood people, which is why he inspired and led them so well.
Speed loved people and reached out to them. In turn, they embraced and respected him.
He was a man from which many lessons came, many words of encouragement came and many insightful visions emerged.
He was intelligent and compassionate. He was straightforward and honest.
He believed in helping others when they needed it most; many of these efforts were public and could not be camouflaged by the public spotlight, but countless others were quietly carried out, quick and responsive, private and kind.
He is and will remain in the memories of those who are blessed to have known him as an example of understanding and goodness, able to translate that into broader service to the people of Franklin County, to the state of North Carolina and beyond.
In that he was the consummate lawmaker - 12 years in the state House and 20 years in the Senate until his retirement in December of 1996.
Speed retired only in name.
At age 81, he began focusing attention more so to his family life, his service to God at Mt. Zion Baptist Church and to the Louisburg/Franklin County community.
His roots were firm in the soils of Sunnyside (Laurel Hill Farms) just outside of Louisburg, N.C., near Laurel Mill, where he raised his family with wife, Martha, whom he treasured as a life partner and whom he once called the “jewel in his crown” and “most valued ally”.
He had three children, Claudia, Tommy and Mark, and enjoyed the blessing of one grandchild, Davis.
Speed’s grandfather built a home on the 600-acre farm in 1857, where Speed spent his life in simplicity, he would say, that was accented in success by hard work and common sense.
He considered himself a farmer foremost, but his ability to place agriculture in a seat of prominence statewide to recognize its economic contributions and significance far exceeded the fields where he plowed.
It is difficult to image a life as full as the one Speed led. His aspirations became realities time and time again through focus and perseverance.
His scrapbook is ripe with large headlines, but much of what Speed did could never be fully explained in a newspaper or magazine account. The accolades, the awards, the handshakes, the honors all fade up against the kind of caring Speed showed toward his fellowman daily, leaving a legacy of human inspiration not easily matched and not seen often in this day’s time.
His formal accomplishments speak for themselves and collectively represent a man who could not be idle and who weaved his ideas and desires into missions, whether it was to protect the rights of N.C. tobacco growers or push for road and education funding or, like most recently, to speak out for change as a local Board of Health member to improve the conditions at the Franklin County Animal Control facility.
“If there has ever been a person to champion a cause for those that tilled the land or labored in the vineyards, it is Jim Speed,” state Sen. Marc Basnight once said.
When Speed decided not to seek re-election to the General Assembly, the thousands of people throughout Franklin, Vance, Johnston, Nash and Wilson counties, whom he had represented, were saddened and the people of North Carolina lost a voice not since heard the same way in those chambers. It was not unusual for Speed to pull in 80 percent or more of the vote in competitive races, never getting less than 55 percent.
His remarkable experience and insight will stand unmatched in the history of North Carolina politics and agriculture.
Honorably, Speed is remembered for the following achievements:
* Served in the N.C. Senate from 1977-1997.
During these terms, Speed served as chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development (1977), chairman of the Committee on Education (1979, 1981 and 1983), chairman of the Committee on Agriculture (1985, 1987 and 1989), chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, Marine Resources and Wildlife (1991) and chairman of the Transportation Committee (1993 and 1995).
* Served in the N.C. House of Representatives from 1961 to 1972.
During these terms, Speed served as the chairman of the House Committee on Local Government (1965) and the chairman of the Committee on Agriculture in 1967, 1969 and 1971.
* Recipient of “The Order of the Long Leaf Pine,” by authorization of Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., 1981.
* Served as a member of the state Board of Agriculture, 1972-1982.
* Served as a member of the N.C. State University Veterinary School board of directors.
* Served as a member of the board of trustees at Franklin Memorial Hospital from 1950-1977; chairman from 1968 to 1974.
* Served as a member of the Franklin County Board of Health from 1940-1965 and served until his death.
* Received the “Outstanding Legislator’s Award,” presented by the N.C. Division on Aging, 1991.
•Recipient of honor from the N.C. Soybean Producers Association and the N.C. soybean industry for outstanding contributions, 1989.
•Recipient of the N.C. Farm Bureau Federations Distinguished Service Agriculture Award, the bureaus highest award, 1985.
Surviving are his loving wife, Martha Speed of the home; daughter, Claudia Speed of Louisburg; sons Robert T. (Tom) and wife Sara Speed of Boone and James (Mark) and wife Camille Speed of Louisburg; grandson, Davis Speed of Boone; sister, Mary Speed Cameron of Raeford; niece, JoAnne Reid of Cary; nephews, Jimmy Hight of Henderson and Bob Speed of Wake Forest.
Funeral service will be 11 a.m. Saturday at Louisburg Baptist Church. Burial will follow at Mt. Zion Baptist Church Cemetery.
The family will receive friends 6 – 8 p.m. Friday at Strickland Funeral Home, 103 W. Franklin St., Louisburg.
Flowers will be accepted, or memorials can be made to: The Baptist
Childrens Homes of North Carolina, P.O. Box 338, Thomasville, NC 27360; the N.C. Masonic Home for Children at Oxford, 600 College St., Oxford, NC 27565 or Heartland Hospice, 3117 Poplarwood Court, #114, Raleigh NC 27604; Franklin County Humane Society, P.O. Box 338, Louisburg, NC 27549.