Robert C. Carpenter, a towering figure in Republican politics in Western North Carolina who served as state senator for eight terms, died Saturday. He was 87.
Familiarly called “Senator Bob” by constituents and political foes alike, the Macon County native had a knack for building bridges with his Democratic counterparts that transcended ideological differences.
A devout Catholic, Carpenter could not be budged politically on certain core conservative beliefs, such as abortion. But when it came to Carpenter’s political and personal passion — working on health issues, particularly in the mental-health arena — this hardcore conservative worked closely with anyone, regardless of party affiliation, who might share his desire to help.
One of Carpenter’s daughters had contracted La Crosse encephalitis as a young child, resulting in a lifetime of mental disabilities.
“He was a giant of a man who will not be replaced,” said state Sen. Jim Davis, who in November became the first Republican since Carpenter lost his seat in 2004 to represent the 50th District. “I was a better man for having known him.”
Davis met Carpenter in 1974 when he was seeking financing to set up his dental practice in Macon County. Carpenter was then with First Union.
“He became my friend when he loaned me the money I needed to open my dental practice,” Davis said jokingly. “I got to be his friend when I paid it all back.”
Chris Murray, chairman of the Macon County Republican Party, described Carpenter as the “quintessential public servant.”
“He was always great to give counsel and advice,” Murray said. “Bob was a charming gentleman.”
Carpenter was a bank executive by trade. He began his political life after retirement.