Jack Hawke’s Legacy

JackHawkeFormer N.C. Republican Party Chairman Jack Hawke passed away on November 4th after a battle with cancer.  Jack was the NCGOP State Chairman when I was first getting involved with the party after college, and he has been a mainstay during my entire tenure of activism.  He leaves a tremendous legacy of service and leadership in North Carolina’s Republican Party.

Jack managed Jim Gardner’s successful Congressional race in 1966 — four years before I was born.  He later ran for Congress himself.  Jack managed Governor Jim Martin’s campaign in 1984, and then served as N.C. Republican Party State Chairman from 1987-1995, which is believed to be the longest stint as chairman in NCGOP history.  He was the founding president of the Civitas Institute and served as the lead strategist for Pat McCrory’s campaigns for Governor in both 2008 and 2012.  I worked most closely with Jack when I was the 7th District GOP Chairman and he was the general consultant on Ilario Pantano’s campaign for Congress in 2010.  He has been a mentor and political father figure to many people I know.

During my tenure as 7th District Chairman, we were blessed to have Jack speak at several of our grassroots and campaign trainings.  Whenever we needed help, he was glad to assist.  I recall one training where he arrived with no notes and no prepared speech, said “I don’t really know what I’m going to talk about,” and then proceeded to eloquently discuss strategy for nearly an hour (no teleprompter needed).  For my fellow Star Wars fans, I often described Jack as the “Yoda” of Republican politics in North Carolina.

Those who spoke at Jack’s funeral included Governor Pat McCrory, former Lt. Governor Jim Gardner and Thomas Stith, Chief of Staff to Governor McCrory.  Other noteworthy leaders in attendance included former Governor Jim Martin, Congressman Richard Hudson, and a whole host of current and former GOP leaders and elected officials.  Some prominent Democrats were also in attendance, which is a testament to the fact that Jack’s influence went beyond our own party.

While Jack was clearly a powerful figure in the N.C. Republican Party, the thing that struck me during his visitation and memorial service were the personal stories that have nothing to do with politics.  All too often, we never see the personal side of those we meet in the political arena.  We only see them in the context of their political work, and therefore never get to know the rest of the story.

In the case of Jack Hawke, the rest of the story was about a dedicated family man who was married to his wife, Grace, for 50 years, who was by all accounts a dedicated, loving father and grandfather, and who was actively involved in his church.  His son, Scott, also spoke during the funeral, sharing a powerful and sincere look back at his father’s life and impact on his family.

The relatively new pastor at Jack’s church also spoke, telling us that he had no real idea about the level of Jack’s political connections until he was visiting Jack at the hospital and Governor McCrory called.  He knew Jack as the faithful church member who always encouraged him in his work, not as a political operative.  Even though Jack was as well-connected politically as anyone, he did not flaunt it.

An article in The News & Observer after Jack’s death described him as “a cheerful political warrior.”  Well said.

Jack will be missed, and we should all pray for Grace and the rest of his family as they adjust to life without him.

– Frank Williams


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