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COLUMN: Getting pins from politicians

William R. Toler and then-Sen. Marc Basnight, 1999.
Courtesy of William R. Toler

After hearing the news of the passing of former state senator Marc Basnight, whom the Carolina Journal referred to as “perhaps the most powerful figure in N.C. politics during the first decade of the 21st century,” I was reminded of the time I met him in the late ‘90s.

During the summers bookending my senior year of high school, I served in both the governor’s and senate page programs in Raleigh.

The latter is when I met Basnight, a Democrat who represented Dare County.

Being from Craven County, I was a page for then-Sen. Bev Perdue, who would later become governor. To be honest, I only met her briefly, one day, for a photo op.

We spent the majority of the mornings in the page office, unless our senator’s office had something for us to do. In the afternoons, we would join the delegation in the Senate chamber of the Legislative Building.

There are three things I remember most from the week I spent as a Senate page:

  • the tall girl from Greensboro who hit me in the knee with her shoe for cracking my knuckles and smeared makeup on my face while were in the Senate chamber;
  • observing the senators argue for hours over a law against jug fishing, complete with visual aids, while putting off the college bond; and
  • getting lapel pins from one of the most powerful politicians in the state.

When I was younger, I used to collect lapel pins. I guess I still do, but, to quote the late Mitch Hedberg, “I used to, too.”

While serving as a page on the Senate floor, my blue blazer was decked out with a variety of pins. Most were military related as I was very active in the Air Force J.R.O.TC. unit at West Craven High School. I also had one from where I served the previous year as a page in the N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.

One day, as I was rotated to stand next to Basnight in the chamber, he looked at my jacket, noticed all of the pins and asked if I wanted more. He then told me to go to his office later for a lighthouse pin.

Those pins were made to commemorate the moving of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse that year.

When I got to Basnight’s office, I was given three pins. Two featured the infamous lighthouse and the other had the Wright Flyer overtop of the state, honoring the first powered aircraft flight by Orville and Wilbur Wright in Kill Devil Hills in 1903.

After those were added to my jacket, I had my photo taken with Basnight.

That wasn’t the only time I received a pin from a politician.

Back in 2014, when former governor Jim Hunt was stumping for then-state Sen. Gene McLaurin in Richmond County, I covered two events in the same day — one at the Hamlet Depot, the other at Liberty Place in downtown Rockingham.

When leaving the Depot, I met with Hunt and told him I had served as a governor’s page in 1998 during his fourth term.

However, the capital was a madhouse during the lackluster Hurricane Bonnie and we had our group photo taken with Secretary of State Elaine Marshall (who is still in that office) instead of the governor.


After hearing this, Hunt had someone take a photo of the two of us together.

I also told him how, during one of his trips to New Bern in the early ‘90s, someone in his entourage had given me a state pin similar to the one he was wearing but had since lost it.

At the latter event, Hunt came up to me, took the pin off of his jacket and fastened it to mine.

Those who know me know I’m not really a fan of politicians, but will always remember those gestures.

William R. Toler is managing editor of the Richmond Observer.


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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.