CAPE CARTERET — The late N.C. Sen. Jean Preston was remembered Saturday for her tireless work for Eastern North Carolina and her friendship to all she met.
“She never met a stranger and she always wanted to hear what everybody had to say. She did a lot for her constituents,” said Judy Hardison.
Hardison and Angie Propst, friends of Preston’s, traveled from Pamlico County for the memorial service held for Preston in Carteret County.
Several hundred gathered at Cape Carteret Presbyterian Church to remember a family member, friend and public servant.
Preston, 77, of Emerald Isle, died Jan. 10. She retired in December after serving a cumulative 20 years in the General Assembly.
She initially served seven terms in the House of Representatives, representing Carteret, Jones and Onslow counties, and was elected in 2006 to the Senate seat serving Carteret, Craven and Pamlico counties.
Propst recalled being asked by Preston to help with her first campaign for Senate.
“She called me when she first ran for Senate and I wasn’t sure but when Jean called and said she needed your help, you said ‘yes, ma’am,’” Propst said with a smile.
Preston, she said, was a true Southern lady: sweet, soft-spoken and always with a smile. But Preston also knew the issues, did her research and fought for what she felt was right.
And agree or disagree on an issue, she valued everyone’s opinion, Propst said.
“When you called her she didn’t always agree. She was not a ‘yes’ person, but she would always listen and say ‘let’s talk,’” Propst said.
Prestonwas remembered for her legacy of service and dedication to issues of importance to her district, from support for the military to the economic importance of tourism.
She had a professional career as an educator, and many say her legacy will be her dedication to education reform.
N.C. Rep. Pat McElraft and N.C. Sen. Harry Brown spoke during the service about Preston’s service, but on a day for celebrating Preston’s life, it was also a time to remember her personal friendship.
“She was a special lady. I will miss her,” Brown said.
McElraft, who is also from Emerald Isle, was a close friend of Preston and also considered her a mentor.
During the service, she read a letter she wrote to Preston after her death.
“Sen. Preston, you know I have always called you that even as well as we know each other, and I think you know that I did that because of the deep respect I have for you and for the grace you have shown at the legislature and in your district. Sen. Preston, did you have any idea how much you were respected and loved by your peers in the General Assembly?”
McElraft recalled long drives with Preston across the district and their talks about her work with special needs students and her favorite campaign contribution — less than $1, given to her by a lady who had saved what little extra she had in change to give to Preston.
McElraft called Preston a true public servant and great mentor. And a best friend.
“We didn’t get to take that walk on the beach we promised ourselves when you finally got to retire, but I know the beaches in heaven must be incredible and as I walk on the beach in Emerald Isle, I will know you are here with me,” McElraft said.
McElraft said there were plans before Preston’s death to have the Long Leaf Pine award presented to her once she retired and became a civilian.