Former North Carolina Congressman Howard Coble dies

Rep. Howard Coble in his congressional office in Washington on Nov. 13, 2014, amid items being packed for his retirement. A painting of a Coast Guard icebreaker he served on as a young man is beside him.
Rep. Howard Coble in his congressional office in Washington on Nov. 13, 2014, amid items being packed for his retirement. A painting of a Coast Guard icebreaker he served on as a young man is beside him. McClatchy

Retired North Carolina Congressman Howard Coble, the longest-serving Republican U.S. House member in the state’s history, has died. He was 84.

The former congressman died late Tuesday in Greensboro after an extended hospitalization, his family said.

Coble represented North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District from 1985 until retiring in early January. In 2013, he cited his health in announcing he would not seek re-election, the Associated Press reported at the time.

WFMY, a television station in Coble’s hometown of Greensboro, reported Wednesday that Coble was hospitalized last fall after complications from surgery for skin cancer. He later moved to a rehab facility, the television station reported.

“J. Howard Coble passed away at 11:40 p.m. Nov. 3 after an extended hospitalization,” brother Ray Coble Jr. told WFMY. “The family wishes to thank Dr. Ali Hajazi and the staff of the Select Specialty Hospital in Greensboro for their excellent care. The community will be notified of funeral arrangements when complete.”

The 6th District spreads across 10 counties, including portions of Guilford, Durham and Orange counties.

Coble was considered an old-school politician, often seen wearing a trademark fedora and mosaic sport jacket while shaking hands with constituents and touring local plants. Coble, who was born in Greensboro, had an intimacy with the region – liking to ask voters where they went to high school and proceeding to recall the school’s mascot. He said in 2013 he was proud of his accessibility to voters, noting that he participated in more than 200 local Christmas parades and 200 Boy Scout Eagle Scout ceremonies.

He was probably best known for refusing to take a congressional pension in the name of fiscal conservatism and leading a subcommittee on intellectual property issues and the Internet in the Web’s early heydays.

Coble was in the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Reserve from 1952 to 1981. His Washington office had a painting of an icebreaker he served on as a young man. He was an assistant federal prosecutor, state revenue secretary under North Carolina Gov. Jim Holshouser and state House member before his initial 1984 congressional victory.

Tributes began pouring in for Coble on Wednesday.

“In an era where our politics are too often characterized by excessive partisanship and animosity, Howard’s camaraderie, good humor, and generosity of spirit reflected the best of what this institution can be,” U.S. Rep. David Price, who succeeded Coble as dean of the North Carolina congressional delegation said in a statement.

“Renee and I were saddened to learn of the passing of my friend Howard Coble. Howard dedicated his life to serving North Carolina and did so with the utmost honor, integrity and kindness,” U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, who represents North Carolina’s 8th District, said in a statement. “He never met a stranger and set the standard for constituent service. We join North Carolina in mourning the loss of a true gentleman and faithful public servant, but find comfort in knowing Howard has found peace with our Savior. We will continue to keep his family and friends in our prayers during this difficult time.”

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory also sent condolences, and the ordered all U.S. and state flags to be lowered until sunset Thursday in his honor.

"With the passing of Howard Coble, North Carolina not only lost a wonderful public servant and congressmen, but our state also lost a friend and mentor to so many, including myself,” the governor said in a statement. “He was a friend who was genuine, hardworking, sincere and honest. We will all miss our friend, but we'll never forget him and the good things he did for our country, our state and so many of us individually. Ann and I will keep the Coble family in our prayers during this difficult time." The Associated Press contributed.

Bethea: 704-358-6013. On Twitter: @AprilBethea