L.F. Eason III gave up the only job he’d ever had rather than lower a flag to honor former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms.
Eason, a 29-year veteran of the state Department of Agriculture, instructed his staff at a small Raleigh lab not to fly the U.S. or North Carolina flags at half-staff Monday, defying a directive sent to all state agencies by Gov. Mike Easley.
When a superior ordered the lab to follow the directive, Eason decided to retire rather than pay tribute to Helms. After several hours’ delay, one of Eason’s employees hung the flags at half-staff.
The brouhaha began late Sunday night, when Eason e-mailed eight of his employees in the state standards lab, which calibrates measuring equipment used on things as widely varied as gasoline and hamburgers.
“Regardless of any executive proclamation, I do not want the flags at the North Carolina Standards Laboratory flown at half staff to honor Jesse Helms any time this week,” Eason wrote just after midnight, according to e-mail messages released in response to a public records request.
He told his staff that he did not think it was appropriate to honor Helms because of his “doctrine of negativity, hate, and prejudice” and his opposition to civil rights bills and the federal Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
I know, I know. It wasn’t his “job” to decide whether to fly the flags at half staff, etc. But there comes a time when you just have to stand up and say out loud that some people aren’t deserving of honor. Neither death nor the grief of their friends and family can transform someone into a saint if they weren’t.
Plus, this guy appears to be consistent.
He later sent an email to the governor explaining his decision, saying of Helms: “Even to his death bed, he refused to apologize for the damage he caused. Now, I stand by this decision. It is a personal decision, but obviously affects my job at the lab….I also understand that my decision is not acceptable. You cannot ignore that fact. There is the law, but there is also a higher law I must follow as a matter of conscience.”
Eason said he had considered not lowering the flag when former President Nixon died — but was saved then by the rain.
Here’s to not just shutting our mouth and going along.