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Former Senate Leader Marc Basnight Dies

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Former state Senator Marc Basnight died Monday at age 73. File photo

This story has been updated

Former state Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, a Manteo native and the coastal region’s champion throughout a storied legislative career, died Monday, Dec. 28, 2020. He was 73.

A private burial service was held for the family due to COVID-19. A memorial will be held when its safe to gather together to celebrate his life and love for our state. His obituary is on Twiford Funeral Homes Outer Banks website.

Basnight was first elected in 1985 to represent Senate District 1, which today includes Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Hertford, Hyde,  Pasquotank, Perquimans, Tyrrell and Washington.

Basnight rose through the ranks to become president pro tempore in 1993. He served in that role until 2010, pushing a progressive agenda on education and the environment, including the creation of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, and the expansion of higher education facilities and transportation infrastructure.

He had a singular impact on coastal North Carolina including the buildout of transportation to and around the region along with adding and improving cultural attractions such as parks, piers, museums and aquariums.

He left the legislature in 2011 for health reasons and later disclosed that he had been diagnosed with ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Basnight continued to put in time at his restaurant, the Basnight’s Lone Cedar Outer Banks Seafood Restaurant, in Nags Head.

In 2019, he was joined by longtime staff from his legislative days to celebrate the naming of the new bridge over Oregon Inlet in his honor. The state Department of Transportation officials said in a past release about naming of the bridge that Basnight “championed the Bonner Bridge Replacement Project from its infancy, noting the vital need for a reliable transportation link to Hatteras Island. “​

Although for a time he was arguably the most powerful person in North Carolina, friends and colleagues said Basnight’s ability to connect with people and understand their challenges were at the heart of his efforts.

North Carolina Coastal Federation Board member Doug Wakeman shared in a Facebook post, “And yet another great one gone. Marc Basnight did more for coastal and northeastern North Carolina than anyone else, ever. We’ve missed him in Raleigh since his retirement, and now we’ll all just miss him, period. Godspeed, Marc.”

Rob Lamme, before he began representing the Coastal Federation for state government affairs, served on Basnight’s staff as communications director and budget director.

“Marc Basnight’s leadership made the protection of more than half a million acres of open space and thousands of miles of coastal waters and inland rivers and streams possible. His conservation legacy will benefit North Carolina’s environment – and its economy – for generations,” Lamme told Coastal Review Online.

Norma Houston, lecturer in Public Law and Government at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, said “We are all grateful for his life and that he is now finally at peace.”

Houston served as chief of staff and general counsel to Basnight.

“Marc embodied the spirit of a ‘servant leader.’ He believed his job, and that of his office, was to serve the people. This belief manifested itself most directly and personally in his approach to serving not only the constituents of his district, but anyone in the state who needed his help,” Houston told Coastal Review Online. “We never had voice mail in his legislative office. He insisted that people who called him should be able to speak with a live person and that his office phone must be answered by the 3rd ring so the caller would not be kept waiting. When he was in the office, if a phone line rang more than three times, he would sometimes answer it himself.”

The Dare County Board of Commissioners remembered Basnight in a statement. “Highly respected throughout the state and the nation, Marc was a true native son of Dare County who worked tirelessly for those he served in northeastern North Carolina,” officials said.

“I was fortunate to have a special friendship with Marc,” said Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard. “He was someone I could always turn to, and I will miss his smile, his encouragement and his passion for Dare County. I will always cherish our talks together, and I appreciate all that he has done for the people of Dare County and the state of North Carolina. Marc Basnight’s legacy and life of public service will be treasured forever.”

U.S. Rep. Greg Murphy said in a statement, “North Carolina lost a consequential and dedicated public servant to our state tonight in Senator Marc Basnight. An eastern North Carolina native, Senator Basnight cared deeply about the welfare of this great state and his impression on our politics will be felt for years to come. I am terribly saddened by his passing, and my condolences go out to his family and loved ones. He will be mourned as a dedicated public servant.”

Gov. Roy Cooper shared Monday after learning of Basnight’s death, “North Carolina lost a giant today with the passing of my friend, Senator Marc Basnight. His positive influence on our public universities, transportation, environment and more will be felt for decades. A man of great power and influence, his humble, common touch made everyone he met feel special, whether pouring them a glass of tea in his restaurant or sharing a pack of nabs at a country store. He believed in North Carolina and its people, and our state is stronger because of him. Our prayers are with Vicki, Caroline and the whole family.”

State House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said Monday in a statement that “Sen. Basnight was a leader who cared deeply about serving his constituents to make a difference in the lives of all North Carolinians. Our thoughts are with his family as they honor his memory and we remember his lasting impact on this state.”

North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin remembered Basnight as well.

“NCDP and I are deeply sorry to hear of the passing of Senator Marc Basnight who faithfully served North Carolina in the State Senate for more than a quarter century. He was an incredible fighter for everyday North Carolinians and was known far and wide as a reliable problem solver,” Goodwin said in a statement. “As someone who served with him in the legislature I witnessed firsthand not only Senator Basnight’s advocacy for eastern and coastal North Carolina, but also how he helped every region of the State with his masterful, tireless, passionate leadership for investments in public schools, North Carolina’s public universities, conservation of our natural resources, and transportation infrastructure. His strong voice, insatiable curiosity, and his continued leadership will be greatly missed. We have lost a great friend of North Carolina, a friend whose legacy we must carry on for generations to come.”

Current Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a statement that “Basnight and the institution of the Senate are in many ways inseparable. He left his mark on the body, and therefore the state, over his nearly two decades of leadership.

“Sen. Basnight loved people. I used to hear that he’d stop along the way from the Outer Banks to Raleigh just to speak to strangers and hear what they had to say. He loved people, and they loved him back,” Berger continued. “I will always remember the grace with which Sen. Basnight conducted the 2011 transition. He spared no effort and denied no request. He could wage political battle with the best of them, but he always put the institution of the Senate, as a symbol of the people’s representative government, first. He’s one of a kind, and I will miss him.”

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said in a statement, “Marc Basnight was one of the most effective and influential political leaders in North Carolina’s history. Marc was a powerful man, but everything he did was driven by a deep and genuine love of people that was evident to all. I always considered him to be one of my best friends. He will be missed.”

Rep. Alma S. Adams, D-N.C., said in a statement she was saddened to hear of the passing of Marc Basnight.

“I served with President Pro Tem Basnight in the General Assembly for over 16 of his 26 years in the Senate. During that time Marc made a difference in the lives of many North Carolinians, passing historic education, minimum wage, and infrastructure legislation that made our state a leader in the South. His background as a small business owner from the Outer Banks meant he always went to work for the ‘little guy.’ My prayers are with Marc’s family, the team at the Lone Cedar Café, and everyone who was touched by his service.”

Former House Speaker Joe Hackney said on social media, “Marc Basnight was a fierce advocate for his district and all of NC, and for UNC, the NC Cancer Hospital and many other causes. He was in politics for all the right reasons. He just wanted to help folks. He wanted NC to be better and stronger and well governed.

“It was an honor to work with him on many, many issues.”

Legislative Reporter Kirk Ross contributed to this report.

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Staff Report

The story was compiled by staff members of Coastal Review Online.