Senator James Thomas Broyhill was born August 19, 1927, in Lenoir, and passed away February 18, 2023. He served in the United States Congress for 24 years, both in the House of Representatives and Senate. He began his career in his family’s company, Broyhill Furniture Industries, which his father founded.
He entered public service early. He became President of the Lenoir Chamber of Commerce in 1956 and 1957, chaired the Caldwell County Blood Drive in 1957, and was named “Young Man of the Year for Lenoir and Caldwell County” in 1957 by the Lenoir Jaycees. He was Vice-Chairman of the Furniture and Plywood Council of the NC Forestry Association from 1955 to 1962 and was a member of the Lenoir Aviation Club. He was an active member of the First Baptist Church of Lenoir where he taught Sunday School and was a member of the choir.
In 1962, Jim was elected to the US House of Representatives, the first Republican to be elected in his district in the Twentieth Century. During his 23-year tenure in the House, he represented one-third of the state’s counties. He was respected by members of both parties, both in his district and among his colleagues. Because of this, he was effective in legislative accomplishments and advocating for his constituents.
In the House of Representatives, he served on the powerful Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee (subsequently the Energy and Commerce Committee) where he was the ranking minority member, the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee, and the House Small Business Committee. He was awarded “Watchdog of the Treasury” trophies by the National Association for Small Business each year he was in Congress. He sponsored and helped draft many of the major pieces of legislation of the second half of the twentieth century. In 1986, he was appointed by Governor Jim Martin to the US Senate where he served on the Armed Services Committee and the Judiciary Committee.
After leaving Washington, he served as Chairman of the North Carolina Board of Economic Development, the Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Commerce, Member and Chair of the Economic Development Committee of NC Citizens for Business and Industry, Co-Chairman of the State Bond Drive benefiting NC Schools, Co-Chairman of the State Bond Drive benefiting the NC University System and Community College System, and Co-Chairman of the North Carolina Welfare to Work Business Council.
He received the I. E. Ready Award by the NC Community College System for Outstanding work for the Community College system. He was inducted into the North Carolina Republican Party Hall of Fame and the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame. The Lenoir, North Carolina Post Office and a section of US 321 between Hickory and Blowing Rock are named in his honor.
Jim served as Chair of the Board of Trustees at Appalachian State University and Member of the Appalachian State University Foundation Board. He was a Member of the Boards of Directors of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC, Senior Services, Inc. in Winston-Salem, and the North Carolina Museum of History Foundation. He was a Member of the Boards of Visitors of the Babcock School of Management, Wake Forest University, and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.
He has received an Honorary Doctor of Law from Catawba College, an Honorary Degree of Associate in Arts from Richmond Community College, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award, and the North Carolina Award in the field of public service, the highest civilian award given by the state.
Jim had an avid interest in history and gave numerous entertaining speeches to civic groups across the state, including one on the Battle of King’s Mountain. He was particularly proud of his part in establishing and preserving the over 330-mile-long Overmountain Victory Trail as part of the US Historic Trails System, in memory of the patriots who marched along the trail to defeat the British in the decisive Battle of King’s Mountain on October 7, 1780. Other lectures featured the history of the United States Capitol and United States Presidents. When visiting Washington in the years following his time in Congress, he delighted in taking friends and family on personalized tours of the Capitol. He was friends with and worked closely with many U.S. Presidents over the years. His congressional career spanned the presidencies of John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan.
Throughout his life, he loved to recall his idyllic childhood in Lenoir. His community rallied around him when he was nine years old and he fell into a coma due to a case of rheumatic fever. While he was recovering at home for a year, he developed a lifelong love of reading and music. In high school, he was senior class president, drum major in the Lenoir High School Band led by Captain James Harper, and played First Flute. He performed with the North Carolina Symphony while only in high school and, upon graduation, was invited to become a member of the Symphony. Memorable childhood events included a trip to the New York World’s Fair in 1939, going with his father to furniture markets in Chicago, and a transatlantic voyage to Europe on the Ocean Liner Queen Elizabeth, just after the end of World War II.
His favorite recreation was golf. He had an outstanding singing voice, and was a voracious reader, especially of American History. His sharp mind was able to recall minute details, and he could recite all U.S. Presidents and Vice Presidents forward and backward. Even in his 90s, he could name the reigning English monarch for any given year in the last thousand years. He rarely missed an episode of Jeopardy. For many years, he entertained his friends in the Romeo Club (Retired Old Men Eating Out) with well-timed jokes and anecdotes.
He is survived by his wife of 71 years, Louise Horton Robbins of Durham. They met in 1949 at a party at his fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A few weeks later, he saw her waiting at a bus stop and offered her a ride. After his graduation in 1950, he stopped frequently to visit Louise at Chapel Hill and her home in Durham while calling on furniture customers in eastern North Carolina. They were married shortly after her graduation in 1951 and made their home in Lenoir, where, within five years, their three children were born. Jim and Louise were true partners throughout their seven decades of marriage, in both their lives in public service and at home. He always remarked on how lucky he was that a beautiful girl like her agreed to go out with him that fateful day in 1949, and every day, wherever they were, he said she was the prettiest in the room.
He is also survived by his daughter, Marilyn Broyhill Beach (Robert); his son, J. Edgar Broyhill (Melanie); six grandchildren, Elizabeth Broyhill Morris (Scott), Laura Beach Dugan (Brendan), James Broyhill (Britney), Lindsay Beach Grdina (John), Penn Broyhill (Natalie), and Ashley Beach Brooks (Brian); 13 great-grandchildren; and many beloved nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his son, Philip Robbins Broyhill; his parents, James Edgar and Satie Hunt Broyhill; and his siblings, Allene Broyhill Stevens, Paul Hunt Broyhill, and Bettie Broyhill Gortner.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Philip Robbins Broyhill Memorial Fund at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Medical Center Boulevard, Winston-Salem, NC 27157; the First Baptist Church of Lenoir, 304 N Main St NW, Lenoir, NC 28645; Centenary United Methodist Church, PO Box 658, Winston-Salem, NC 27101; or the Overmountain Victory Trail Association, Suite 5, Box 154, 1101 Volunteer Parkway, Bristol, TN 37620.
A service will be held in Winston-Salem on Tuesday, February 28 at Centenary United Methodist Church, 646 W 5th Street, at 10:00 a.m. with a reception to follow at Forsyth Country Club, 3101 Country Club Rd. A graveside service will be held that afternoon at 3:00 p.m. at Little Rock Baptist Church near Lenoir, 248 Little Rock Church Rd, Boomer, NC.
Condolences may be made online at www.salemfh.com.