U.S. Senator Sam J. Ervin, Jr. of Watergate Fame

Sam J. Ervin, Jr. On April 23, 1985, former U.S. Senator and Watergate Committee chairman Sam J. Ervin, Jr., died of respiratory failure at North Carolina Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem. He was 88.

Born in Morganton, Ervin graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1917 before serving in France during World War I. After earning a law degree from Harvard University in 1922, he returned to his hometown to practice law and, years later, still described himself as an “old country lawyer.”

A Democrat, Ervin won election to three terms in the General Assembly, was appointed to Congress and served on the North Carolina Supreme Court before beginning a 20-year career in the U.S. Senate in 1954. Considered a strict constitutionalist, Ervin defied ideology or party lines. He sat on the committee that censured Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, led filibusters against civil rights laws while simultaneously advocating for civil liberties in the 1960s and opposed the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.

His folksy humor, distinctive accent and Southern charm made “Senator Sam” a national figure during the televised Watergate hearings in 1972-73. Ervin retired in 1974 and again returned to his hometown, where he wrote three books and continued to practice law.

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