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Family, politicians recall Joe Hege’s contributions

By David Bodenheimer
The Dispatch
Published: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 2:46 p.m.

Joe H. Hege Jr.’s roots were deep in Davidson County. He was a public servant, private pilot, military veteran, avid church member and family man. Sharing stories about Hege’s influence is easy for those who knew him well and comforting for those who now miss him.

Hege, 85, died last week at Lexington Memorial Hospital, a year after his health began declining. Born in Davidson County in 1926 to Joe Harvey Hege Sr. and Ellen Josephine Hilliard Hege. Hege was a lifelong county resident. He served nine terms as a Republican in the N.C. House of Representatives between 1966 and 1992. In 1971, Hege finished out the term of Davidson County Sheriff Fred Sink, who had been tapped to become a U.S. Marshal.

His daughter, Karen Watford, remembers his tenure of legislative service well.

“On Mondays he would drive down to Raleigh, and he would stay Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,” Watford said, “and he would come home on Fridays. He did that for all those terms. That’s what he enjoyed. He was very interested in doing what he could on the state level to help his constituents.”

A loyal Republican, Hege was elected to the Davidson County GOP Hall of Fame.

Watford said her father was a noble man who cared for his family, friends, country and the people whom he served.

“He was such an honest, down to earth, humble man,” she said. “We’re going to miss him.”

In addition to his political career, Hege was a World War II veteran, having served in the 80th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop. He was a member of the VFW Post 3074, American Legion Post 8 and AMVETS Post 13.

Watford is the wife of Davidson County Board of Commissioners’ Chairman Sam Watford. The couple has been married for 33 years. For Sam, those years created quite a relationship with his father-in-law.

We ate lunch together every Sunday for years,” Sam said. “Learned and talked all about politics and business and flying airplanes.

Watford, who is a private pilot himself, credited Hege for his interest in becoming a pilot. Watford said some of their Sunday lunches were followed by a few hours up in the air.

He liked to talk,” Watford joked. “He was a good man. You couldn’t help but learn from him. A lot of others would say the same thing.

The political landscape in Davidson County and the state was vastly different during Hege’s career. He was a Republican among many Democrats. From those who knew him best, they say his character allowed him to serve all those years despite being in the minority.

Davidson County Republican Party Chairman Lance Barrett described Hege as a local political hero.

“Joe Hege, he’s just one of our party’s warhorses,” Barrett said. “He’s just one of our old legends. When you serve that long, I think that speaks volumes about what people thought about him.”

Surviving in addition to Hege’s daughter are his wife, Jane Owen Hege, and two sons, Joe H. Hege III and wife Marcy and Edwin Hege and wife Jennie. He had seven grandchildren: Jordan Lupton, Dylan Hege, Morgan Watford, Alex Hege, Courtney Hege, Kim Hebert and Jessica McCarl; four great-grandchildren, Owen Lupton, Josh Hayes, Christopher Herbert and Justin Herbert; three brothers, Jack Hege and Don Hege and wife Phyllis, all of Lexington, and Guy Hege and wife Bobbie of Jamestown; and sister-in-law Lucille Hege of Greensboro.

Hege was buried at the Pilgrim Reformed Cemetery at the Pilgrim Reformed Church. He was a lifelong member of the church, serving in multiple leadership roles, including the consistory.

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