Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., died Sunday in Greenville, N.C., 15 days after his family announced that he had entered hospice care. He was 76.
“Congressman Jones was a man of the people,” his office said in a statement. “With a kind heart and the courage of his convictions, he dedicated his life to serving his Savior and to standing up for Americans who needed a voice.”
Jones had suffered a broken hip at his home on Jan. 14 and underwent surgery at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville the following day. His family issued a statement on Jan. 26 announcing that he had entered hospice care and asking for privacy.
Jones had battled a series of ailments in recent years and was granted a leave of absence from Congress late last year after missing a number of House votes.
“The House of Representatives has sustained a great loss, and the hearts of all Members of our Congressional community are broken,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement. “Congressman Jones was a gentleman who treated his colleagues on both sides of the aisle with kindness, decency, and compassion. He worked always in a spirit of bipartisanship to build a better future for his constituents and the American people, earning him the deep respect of all those who were fortunate enough to know and work with him. His relentless work on behalf of our men and women in uniform, veterans, military families and caregivers honored our American values and strengthened our country.”
Jones was first elected to Congress in 1994 and represented the state’s 3rd District, which includes the cities of Kinston, Greenville and New Bern, for his entire career. He was re-elected in November after running unopposed. His death means Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper will schedule a special election to decide who will complete Jones’ two-year term. State law requires the schedule include primary races as well in the GOP-leaning district. No specific dates are mandated in the law for the elections.
“Congressman Walter B. Jones, Jr. was the true embodiment of a public servant,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said in a statement. “He will be long remembered for his tireless advocacy for Eastern North Carolina, which he loved dearly, and for always following his convictions, no matter the political cost. He always did what he felt was right for his constituents, his district, and his country, and it was no wonder why he was so widely admired and trusted. It was a true honor to serve with Walter Jones.”
“Walter and I came to Washington together in 1995,” said North Carolina’s other senator, Republican Richard Burr. “Having worked alongside him for nearly 25 years, I can tell you without hesitation that he left North Carolina, Congress, and our country better places than he found them. Walter will be remembered as a man of strong principles, willing to take an unpopular stand when necessary. He was a hard-working and faithful public servant, and he will be sorely missed.”
An early supporter of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Jones was credited with leading the campaign to rechristen the House cafeteria’s French fries as “freedom fries” in response to the Paris government’s opposition to military action. However, he later regretted authorizing then-President George W. Bush to use force to topple Saddam Hussein.
“I did not do what I should have done to read and find out whether Bush was telling us the truth about Saddam being responsible for 9/11 and having weapons of mass destruction,” Jones told North Carolina radio host Tyler Cralle in 2015. “Because I did not do my job then, I helped kill 4,000 Americans, and I will go to my grave regretting that.”
Prior to his election to Congress, Jones served for 10 years in the North Carolina House of Representatives. His father, Walter Jones, Sr., represented North Carolina’s neighboring 1st District as a Democrat between 1966 and his death in 1992.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., who currently represents the 1st District, tweeted that the younger Walter Jones “was my friend of over 40 years.
“I will miss his humility and unwavering love of his community,” Butterfield added.
“Deeply saddened by the passing of Walter Jones—a beloved colleague and friend who had a profound impact on all through his graciousness, character, and committed Christian faith,” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., tweeted. “God be with and keep his family. We will miss him.”
Walter Beamon Jones Jr. was born in Farmville in 1943. He attended Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia during high school and then graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Atlantic Christian College — now known as Barton College — in 1966.
Survivors include his wife, Joe Anne, and a daughter, Ashley. Funeral arrangements weren’t immediately announced.
Fox News’ Pamela Ng and The Associated Press contributed to this report.