A mighty oak tree fell last week when longtime Cumberland County Senator Tony Rand met his maker.

Rand was a political animal from the get-go and had the skills of a master. His mind worked like a lightning bolt, giving him the intellectual heft to see needs and to make change. His quick wit and Southern charm gave him the honey to make change palatable even to those who opposed it. He could skewer a colleague on the Senate floor with a smile, telling someone to go to you-know-where in such a way that the victim looked forward to the trip. One of my favorite Rand quips comes from a Senate debate involving a senator from Johnston County. Said Rand on the Senate floor, “Now it might be that all the judicial wisdom of western civilization resides in Johnston County, but I doubt it.”

He understood and was a decadeslong player in big-dog politics in North Carolina, but he never lost sight of what would build up and enhance the lives of everyday people. He could play hardball, and he could and did fight hard for resources, programs and laws that would help North Carolina rise and prosper.

His legacy in Cumberland County is all around us, including increased resources for Fayetteville State University and Fayetteville Technical Community College, Cape Fear Botanical Garden, Cape Fear Regional Theatre and the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra. Our community still uses 910 as our area code in part because Tony Rand suggested to the Utilities Commission that soldiers in combat zones already knew 910 and could remember it when calling home. It was the Greensboro metropolitan area that changed to the 336 area code, not Fayetteville. Goodyear remains in our community because he championed incentive legislation that encouraged the company to stay.

Rand’s fingerprints are visible in every community in North Carolina as well. He advocated for and secured funding for early childhood education, the UNC system and the UNC health care system during his legislative career. He created a formula for funding public education in low-wealth counties, including Cumberland, Hoke and Robeson, to help put their students more on par with students from wealthier school systems.

His more than two decades in the General Assembly earned him friends from all ages and walks of life — from presidents to prison guards, from generals to gofers. He treated each of them with respect and good humor, and they loved him for it. He never forgot that he grew up in small-town North Carolina and was grateful.

With his sense of perfect timing, Rand resigned his Senate seat in late 2009 and went to work using his legal skills as chair of the North Carolina Parole Commission. He then applied his knowledge of the community college system to workforce development at FTCC, and in what was a closing-of-the-circle moment, he served as Chair of the North Carolina Education Lottery Commission.

Establishing a lottery in North Carolina had been a long-running and highly controversial issue for years. On the day it finally passed the General Assembly in 2005, I was barely into my second term in the North Carolina House, and for reasons I no longer remember, I decided to pop into the Senate chamber to watch the lottery debate. Sen. Rand was running the show, of course, and with an in-depth knowledge of legislative rules and procedures coupled with exquisite political timing, he engineered a tie vote. The tie was broken with a quick “aye” vote from then Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue, a Rand friend and ally, and — presto! — North Carolina had it’s own Education Lottery.

A newbie senator turned to me and said, “Margaret, you and I are here playing checkers, but that guy is playing chess in 3-D with a blindfold.”

Amen to that.

Tony Rand’s was a life well and fully lived and much enjoyed.

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