In 1973, Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina was perhaps the most respected and popular member of the United States Congress. His role in the televised Watergate hearings as chairman of the Senate Select Committee led one member of Congress to remark that he was “the most nonpartisan Democrat in the Senate.” T-shirts were made in his honor; everyone had a favorite “Senator Sam” story; he starred on an album entitled “Senator Sam at Home;” his face was pressed on Newsweek and Time; fan clubs appeared; and it became “chic” to have a Southern accent and spin down-home tales of life in the rural South. Millions adored him. But Ervin didn’t buy into this heroic public image.
He was seventy-seven and had already decided he would retire in 1975. He maintained a listed phone number at his residence in Washington D.C. for most of his time in the Senate (he only changed it after several unusual phone calls during the Watergate hearings led his wife to demand a new unlisted number), and he called himself a simple “country lawyer.” He lived in the same house in Morganton, North Carolina most of his life (across the street from his birth home), greeted neighbors and constituents himself at the front door, and graciously accepted produce on his porch from local farmers. He would often remark that his wife of over fifty years kept him grounded. Senator Sam was truly one of the people.
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