RALEIGH — Longtime legislator and Senate Democratic Leader Martin Nesbitt Jr. passed away Thursday night after a brief battle with cancer. He was 67 years old.
Until last week, Sen. Nesbitt led the Senate Democratic Caucus, before stepping down after his diagnosis.
“Tonight, North Carolina lost a great leader, and I mourn a valued friend,” said Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue Jr. in a news release distributed by the North Carolina Senate Democratic Caucus. “Martin always believed in the people of our great state and strove to make North Carolina a better place.”
Sen. Gene McLaurin said in an email to The Daily Journal that Nesbitt made several trips to Richmond County while McLaurin campaigned for the Senate.
“He loved our state with all his heart and has inspired me and many others about what it means to be a public servant,” McLaurin said.
Blue said he knew Nesbitt for more than 30 years “and I will greatly miss his friendship, counsel, and candor … my prayers are with Martin, his family, and the families across North Carolina for whom he worked for so long.”
Nesbitt, an attorney representing Buncombe County, was first appointed to the House in 1979 to finish the remainder of the term for his mother, Mary Nesbitt, after her passing. He became appropriations chairman and top budget writer in the 1990s and began serving in the Senate in 2004.
He was elected Senate Majority Leader in 2009, and after the Republican takeover in 2010, was elected Minority Leader. The son of a teacher, he is a champion for public education as well as mental health and healthcare reform. Nesbitt has unprecedented experience as a legislator and has used his knowledge to recruit and support strong candidates as well as support caucus members.
“For 30 years, Martin Nesbitt has served the people of Buncombe County in the General Assembly with extraordinary dedication, and North Carolina has lost a great leader,” said U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan. “Martin was a fierce defender of his values, a champion for mental health, and a strong advocate for North Carolina’s children and public education system.”