Tar Heel politico Rufus Edmisten shares stories from a long life, career

Posted 9/6/19

CHAPEL HILL — Rufus Edmisten, the first person serving on a Congressional committee to serve a sitting president with a subpoena, was hosted by Flyleaf Books last week as part of his promotional …

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Tar Heel politico Rufus Edmisten shares stories from a long life, career

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CHAPEL HILL — Rufus Edmisten, the first person serving on a Congressional committee to serve a sitting president with a subpoena, was hosted by Flyleaf Books last week as part of his promotional tour for his book, “That’s Rufus: A Memoir of Tar Heel Politics, Watergate and Public Life.”

He shared stories and anecdotes from his personal and professional life with a large crowd in the Chapel Hill book store.

“It’s a glimpse into the mid-20th century shenanigans of a farm boy growing up in North Carolina,” Edmisten said.

The memoir shares stories from his time as a child growing up in meager circumstances in Boone, attending his alma-mater UNC-Chapel Hill, his times in Washington, serving as an aide to U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin during Watergate, gardening and his experiences in North Carolina politics — including his eventual downfall and return from the ashes of his resignation as North Carolina’s Secretary of State.

Edmisten began his life in the mountains of Boone on his family farm. The book shares quaint stories of family, faith and farm life. Edmisten writes of plowing fields, bailing hay, and even running his first auction. He describes and demonstrates how is upbringing provided him with the fundamentals of what he did throughout politics.

During the event, he shared a humorous story about his propensity for trouble. His father was a N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Enforcement Officer and once, when Edmisten was 13, he decided to take “his daddy’s car” and “catch me some violators.”

“I went right into the ditch and terror struck my heart,” he said.

He described a Dr. Pepper truck, driven by a friend of the family, coming down the road to save the day. With the car back in place, he “prayed and prayed” that he would survive the ordeal and somehow his father was none the wiser. He said he couldn’t even tell the story for 20 years for fear of the repercussions.

The book continues to his time at UNC where he pursued religious studies, working his way through school and the occasional hitchhiking story to get back to his beloved Boone. He then moved to Washington, D.C., to attend law school and work for Sen. Ervin, the man who would eventually help force the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Edmisten’s book provides an inside glimpse of the Watergate hearings and his travels with the senator.

His book outlines inner secrets of the Watergate hearing. He shares private discussions, deliberations, and humerous anecdotes such as when they would hide the daily lunch menu in other books so that the media didn’t notice. He also described Watergate period as being somewhat unfair to Nixon, especially the media. He noticed that members of the media had a true disdain for Nixon that Edmisten believes was evident in their coverage. Edmisten agreed that Nixon did go beyond the bounds of the office, but at the same time felt sorry for the president.

He also shared one story about Ervin with the crowd at Flyleaf Books that wasn’t included in the book. He called it “Sleeping with God.”

In 1978, the two were on the campaign trail in central North Carolina and found themselves in Pittsboro late one evening. The only place to stay was the old Blair Hotel, which currently houses storefronts and offices on the traffic circle in Pittsboro facing the of state after an N.C. Auditor’s report claimed he had misused his office (a claim for which he was eventually exonerated), he found himself at a loss. His friends turned their backs on him and he, in turn, sought out those on the other side of the aisle. He reached out to one of his gubernatorial primary opponents, Senator Lauch Faircloth as well as Republican Senator Jesse Helms. Both of his former adversaries helped Edmisten pick himself up out of the ashes and find a new career as a lobbyist. For decades since, that has been his role.

“Hubris is a viscous disease,” Edmisten told the audience. “You need some sort of spirituality to lead you through life. You need to treat people with empathy and you have to put yourself in someone else’s position.”

Edmisten’s book is available at bookstores and online retailers.

Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.

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