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But the continued effects of poor health may have been too much even for this fighter. He recently contracted a painful hypothyroid condition, that sapped his strength and kept him from much of his Senate work last year. It also forced him reluctantly to decide not to run for re-election.
It appeared to staff and friends in recent months that Senator EAST had improved. He returned to debate and vote in the Senate, and he was on the verge of resuming his career as a professor of political science at East Carolina University.
It was in that new phase of his career, in fact, that EAST might have made his most enduring contributions. In the Senate, despite his convictions, he seemed out of place. He loved the ideas of politics, but not the practice of compromise. He never established his independence from Senator Helms, perhaps because he didn't want to. Whether better health or a second term in the Senate would have given him more influence we will never know.
But we do know EAST was very well suited to the classroom. Made wiser by his Senate experience, he could have taught and influenced another generation of young scholars.
But, now, for reasons we will probably never fully understand, John East's voice has been stilled. His intellectual talents were too large to be so abruptly and tragically wasted. All North Carolinians are saddened by his loss.
[From the Washington Post, July 1, 1986]
JOHN P. EAST
Senator JOHN P. EAST had been attending sessions at the Senate regularly, was described by aides as cheerful and in a good mood, and was preparing to edit proofs of a book of essays he had written. But as his colleague and fellow North Carolina Republican Jesse Helms said, “One never knows what's inside another person." Mr. EAST killed himself over the weekend in his Greenville home.
What we do know is that Mr. EAST pursued his political career under circumstances of surpassing difficulty. In 1955 he was crippled by polio while serving in the Marine Corps. He announced last fall that for health reasons he would not run for reelection this year. He was hospitalized in 1985 for hypothyroidism—a condition that tends to be accompanied by depression-and for treatment of a low white-blood-cell count and a urinary blockage.
Confined to a wheelchair, Mr. EAST earned a law degree and a Ph.D. in political science, and became a professor at East Carolina University. A conservative Republican when that breed was scarce in eastern North Carolina, he ran for office twice unsuccessfully before being elected to the Senate in 1980.
Like all politicians, Senator EAST was only partly successful in reaching his goals, and like many he may have regretted the circumstances—especially cruel in his case-prompting him to leave public office. But he had cause for satisfaction in his work, and his apparent decision that he could no longer carry on inspires sadness and sympathy.
[From the Washington Times, July 1, 1986]
THE DEATH OF John East
After playing college football and serving in the Marines, John P. EAST contracted polio at age 24-one of the last casualties before the Salk vaccine-and learned that he would never walk again. So he climbed into a wheelchair and continued on to law school, graduate school, and a career of teaching political science and the conservative philosophers he so admired. This comeback culminated in his election to the U.S. Senate, where for five years he put his conservative principles into action.
Polio did not destroy him, but hypothyroidism did its best, perhaps succeeding. The disease is known to cause depression, mental impairment, and hallucinations. Last weekend the senator was driven home to Greenville, N.C., and dropped off at his empty home, his wife being on a visit to her mother. Then a note, then the gas fumes, then the end.
American politics has lost a generous and honorable man and that rare bird in practical politics, the intellectual ideologue, possessor of both scholarly breadth and philosophical commitment.
The moral tradition that JOHN East so zealously upheld teaches that the Almighty has fixed his canon against self-slaughter, but it also teaches that He is, above all else, a loving and compassionate Father. Those who knew the junior Senator from North Carolina and who knew of his battles and his sufferings in this world will have no fear for his condition in the next.
Lesser men would have been discouraged, but Mr. EAST, who had won the Phi Beta Kappa Key in college, went on to earn law and Ph.D. degrees and become a college professor in political science. He shunned the trendiness of the liberal perspective of political science, and students who eagerly signed up for his courses heard a teacher who could expertly and wisely shake the foundations of the politics of welfarism and a weak defense.
He became a U.S. Senator because of hard-hitting television commercials financed by Mr. Helms' Congressional Club-commercials that destroyed the political career of Democrat Robert Morgan without really saying much about JOHN EAST. But if the Tar Heel electorate had been his classroom, North Carolina might have voted for him anyway. Mr. EAST could be powerfully convincing without theatrics. His suasion was didactic rather than volcanic.
It has been said that his life was a profile in courage, and that seems true enough. Yet it pains to think that one so brave, for some unknown reason, could not continue to face life and inore pain. If JOHN EAST had chosen life after the Senate he might have been a grand teacher and statesman, a living testimony to man's ability to endure with dignity.
North Carolina has lost a plucky and brilliant public servant.
Mr. SIMPSON. Mr. President, it was a most impressive ceremony we have just concluded, one we have all shared in, and a most impressive series of remarks by the majority leader and by the Democratic leader and by Senator Helms-all extraordinarily authentic and sincere. I will have more to say at an appropriate time in eulogizing our colleague, but indeed it is a great tragedy since our last gathering.
I recall so well my last visit with JOHN EAST off the floor, with the usual pleasantries: "How are you, JOHN? What's up?" Talking about voting and the strange hours and things of that nature that we talk of-but seldom get to the depth of ourselves.
Here was this great man of courage who conquered polio; this bright, inquisitive, probative, incisive mind of his; a teacher in every sense of the word.
I have lost a friend. He was my seat-mate in the Judiciary Committee at each executive committee session. I know that the occupant of the chair (Mr. Grassley) remembers the pleasure of sharing time with Senator EAST, as he sat on his right and I sat on his left. We had a great deal of rapport and a fine spirit among ourselves.
Then the twin hammers of polio and hypothyroidism brought him down. He told me often: "I could handle the one, but the other makes it tough." Indeed, the degree of that toughness will never be known to those of us here.
I was privileged to be at the memorial service in Greenville, NC—a very moving, swift ceremony-in which he was honored and eulogized.
I say to his wife, Sis, whom I have come to know, and their two dear children, whom I have not come to know well-I hope God will sustain them and strengthen them as they confront this awesome tragedy.
We welcome our new colleague, Jim Broyhill, to the U.S. Senate. He is a sensitive and thoughtful man. I have come to know him and work with him on nuclear issues in conference committees. I am certain it goes unsaid that this is not the manner in which he wished to come here, but it is in the manner as directed by law under the appointment powers of their able Governor, Jim Martin.
So we greet him warmly as we grieve for our own fallen colleague. Senator EAST leaves a physical vacancy in this Chamber and a greater vacancy in our hearts and minds as we ponder and grapple with how better we might have responded to him or heard his quiet pleas of pain and anguish which were very real and indeed were there.
So we ask God to relieve us all, in our minds and hearts, as to why?—a word, interestingly enough, that does not appear in the Bible. That, I think, is very fortunate, because we cannot continue to wonder "Why?" Our faith and certainly the faith of his wife, Sis, and their two daughters and their love for each other will help us all to assuage the pain of his loss. He shall be deeply missed in so many ways by so many of us.
Mr. CRANSTON. Mr. President, those of us on the Democratic side of the aisle did not very often vote with JOHN EAST; we did not very often agree with him on issues. We knew him as a man of great intelligence and high integrity. He was always pleasant, always smiling, and never complaining about the pain and the anguish and the suffering that was his lot. He was a fine Member of this body, a fine member of the family, and we all miss him very deeply.
We express our regrets to his wife and his daughters and other members of that family.
We are also in a mood of welcoming to this Chamber Senator Jim Broyhill, who comes to replace Senator JOHN EAST. We look forward to working with Senator Broyhill on the great issues that confront us all in this body and in the United States and in the world.
Mr. PRESSLER. Mr. President, it is with profound sadness that I take this opportunity to express my condolences upon the death of our friend and colleague, Senator JOHN EAST.
The death of Senator EAST removes an extraordinary American from our ranks. Author, philosopher, teacher, scholar, leader, and patriot, JOHN helped us all to better understand the principles and values upon which our way of life is based. In Congress, Senator EAST handled the responsibilities of his office with unwavering dedication, honesty, and hard work. He supported calls for a restoration of traditional family values, frequently citing philosophers such as Plato, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Edmund Burke. He was strongly dedicated to his home State of North Carolina and our Nation, fighting for his constituents and his principles.
It has been my honor to know JOHN and to be among his many friends and admirers. Throughout his life, JOHN has served his God, country, State, and community. His life of public service will continue to be an inspiration to us all. JOHN EAST's personal qualities, his sincerity, his friendliness, his dignity, and his character are the hallmarks of a remarkable human being. He has earned a prominent place in American history. I extend my deepest sympathy to his wife, Priscilla, and other members of his family.
Mr. HEINZ. Mr. President, it is with sadness that I rise in remembrance of Senator EAST. JOHN was a man of strongly held beliefs, great integrity and personal courage. He was a scholar, a compassionate man, a fine Senator and a good friend.
JOHN EAST was no stranger to adversity. As a young man he was stricken with polio. His response to adversity was typical of JOHN. He dedicated himself to the pursuit of knowledge, and having attained it, dedicated himself for 16 years to sharing it with others. In 1980 the people of North Carolina elected him to serve in this body and for the last 6 years he served North Carolinians and, indeed, all Americans steadfastly.
I will miss JOHN. Several of our colleagues have offered condolences to his wife, Sissy and his family, and I join with them in expressing my sorrow and my wish that JOHN's great accomplishments will be a comfort to his wife and daughters as they are and will be to the multitude of people JOHN'S life touched.
Mr. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, the death of Senator JOHN EAST has saddened us all. JOHN's passing was sudden and unexpected, and our hearts and prayers are with Priscilla and the East family.
JOHN EAST and I came to the Senate at the same time, and I consider myself fortunate to have enjoyed JOHN's friendship. His career in public service was extraordinary, and serves as a lesson for those who must overcome adversities. JOHN served in the Marine Corps until he contracted a debilitating illness that forced him to change paths. Undaunted, he obtained a law degree. He later turned his attention and enthusiasm to educational pursuits, after earning a doctorate degree in 1964.
For over 15 years, JOHN taught political science at East Carolina University, and, in 1980, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he strove to put into practice what he had been teaching and studying for much of his career.
Those of us in the Senate who knew JOHN EAST will never underestimate his courage, his thoughtfulness or his sincerity in taking tough positions on a variety of issues ranging from our national foreign policy to concern over family values.
I will deeply miss JOHN's companionship, and the Senate will miss his wisdom.
Mr. PROXMIRE. Mr. President, I wish to join my colleagues in paying tribute to our departed colleague JOHN EAST, the Senator from North Carolina. He was a remarkable man. In the years I have been here-and I have been here 29 years-I cannot recall more than two or three Senators who had been wheelchair-ridden, and none during their entire career, except JOHN EAST. JOHN EAST has shown great courage. I think he was a most articulate, intelligent, very decent, and good man.