We'll Miss You, Joe!

Earlier this evening, Joe Herzenberg passed away at UNC Hospitals. Joe had been in failing health for some time.

This is a very sad moment for those of us who worked closely with Joe through his Chapel Hill political career in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Sadder still for those who remained close to him until the end.

For newcomers who did not know Joe, there was a time when he was the standout progressive leader on the Chapel Hill Town Council, a strong neighborhood advocate and civil libertarian. He was highly popular, the top vote-getter in 1991, and considered by many at the time to be a likely mayoral candidate.

As wikipedia summarizes it, "Herzenberg was narrowly defeated in a 1979 bid for the Chapel Hill Town Council, but was later appointed to the town council when council-member Gerry Cohen stepped down following a failed bid for mayor. Herzenberg lost his reelection bid in 1981, but he returned to the council in 1987 and was reelected with overwhelming support in 1991."

But Joe was best known as the first openly gay elected official in North Carolina. Next Saturday, Equality NC (of which Joe was a founder) was set to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Joe's 1987 election at the Equality Conference & Gala.  
Joe was also a mentor to younger political leaders, gay leaders like Mike Nelson and Mark Kleinschmidt, but also straight leaders like Mark Chilton.

Through the years, Joe always had a keen eye on local politics and freely shared his insights with those with the good sense to ask. I will remember his warmth, his sense of humor, and his friendship.



I just learned about the news (and then came to the site, saw Dan's post, and published the above). Joe was so important to a whole generation of us who he encouraged and mentored to get involved in local issues. He held a broad view of social change and worked on more issues than I can recount including civil rights, parks and open space, affordable housing, public transportation, gay and lesbian rights... the list goes on and on. Above all he was devoted to getting more progressives elected at every level of government.

The last time I saw him he was out getting a bagel on his own, so I thought he must be doing well. Apparently he took a turn for a worse last week. I will miss him so so much. I still expect to see him walking down Franklin Street or sitting in front of Pepper's.

The best thing is that his good work will endure, and so many of us are here to carry his memory and keep his legacy alive.

Joe Herzenberg, presente!

I first met Joe when my brother was helping out on his early '80's election. Over the years, I'd run into Joe various places - usually Downtown - and we'd talk about the changes Town was going through. He'd always have some interesting tidbit about the local scene - past or present - to pass on.

In recent years, Joe would pop up at Council meetings and talk about where our community had come from - reminding us that our past informs our future. I'll miss his reminders.

I saw him not too long ago walking along Franklin St. (I think I'll always remember him as an ever present figure of Franklin) and we exchanged some light pleasantries. I was thinking about how Joe was kind of an echo of a different - more forward looking - Chapel Hill - an era that might be passing.

Now he's gone.

Thanks Joe.

I was lucky to get the opportunity to know Joe when we served on the Airport Road renaming committee three years ago. Joe was a historian and active in the Civil Rights movement in the south and that along with his long term knowledge of Chapel Hill brought a great perspective to the committee.

The committee was full of folks who were Joe's friends and had been for decades but Joe made a real effort to reach out to me and the other student on the committee and get to know us. That meant a lot to me and I think said a lot about Joe's character and the kind of person he was.

I enjoyed running into him on Franklin Street from time to time over the next three years and talking Chapel Hill politics with him, which he was certainly avidly interested in to the end.

He was a great leader for this community.

Yes, Joe will be sorely missed. I was pleased that Joe was able to replace me on the Town Council from 1979-1981, and that he gave so much leadership over the last 4 decades. Thanks to Kathie Young who helped organize Joe's care the last two years, she went above and beyond what anyone could have expected. She sent me an email this afternoon about his worsening condition and I was among a small group with Joe when he passed. I told Joe to go on ahead and we would join him later.
Scott Herman-Giddens, Mark Kleinschmidt, Mark Chilton, Mike Nelson, and two or three others of us just had a small wake for Joe at Crooks Corner.

I consider myself very fortunate to have met Joe. He was an extremely kind man. He had a giant heart and a great intellect. We owe him a lot.

Thank you for working so hard to make our community such a great place Joe.

Dan, thank you for your remarks about our friend Joe.

Joe's death is indeed a great loss for the progressive community in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. He was a fighter for racial justice, LGBT rights, affordable housing, greenways, libraries, civil liberties and the list could go on and on.

As we gathered around Joe this afternoon, all holding hands in a circle around his hospital bed, listening to his Rabbi pray, knowing that Joe was in the last hours of his life, I couldn't help but to think of all he'd done for us, for his community. For me, one thing stands out above all others.

His election 20 years ago to the Chapel Hill Town Council, when he became North Carolina's first openly gay elected official, changed the South. By breaking through that barrier he opened the door for those of us who followed in North Carolina: me, Gloria Faley, Mark Kleinschmidt, State Senator Julia Boseman, Judge John Arrowood, and (hopefully) Lydia Lavelle. That election began a slow march, a journey, that led to Carrboro becoming the first municipality in the South to adopt domestic partnership benefits, to the governor appointing John Arrowood to the NC Court of Appeals, and to Jim Neal becoming the first openly gay man to run for US Senate in North Carolina.

I've been thinking a great deal of Joe's election in 1987 recently. I was his campaign manager that year, and I've been around to see first hand the changes that followed. It was like throwing a rock into a lake...the ripples continued, and continued, and continue. Twenty years ago, I don't think any of us, including Joe, could have guessed that in 2008 we'd have not one but two openly gay candidates running for state wide office in North Carolina.

Of course, Joe's accomplishments transcended sexual orientation. Each of you could probably list as well as I the hundreds of ways he influenced our community. But for me, and for thousands upon thousands of LGBT North Carolinians, he will be remembered for changing our lives, for making this state a friendlier, more tolerant place to live.

Thank you for posting this Dan. And thank you to everyone who has already shared such beautiful thoughts and memories of one of Chapel Hill's finest citizens. As Mike said, Joe, The Mayor of Franklin Street, was one of my most treasured mentors and friends. He was an inspiration. While speaking to a DTH reporter earlier tonight, I was moved to reflect on the gifts Joe bestowed on this community: the greenways, parks and rec improvements, a commitment to affordable housing, his passion for civil rights and civil liberties. Joe did more than move the ball forward on the issues he cared about. He never rested. He continued to fight to ensure that values of fairness, justice, and compassion were made an integral part of how our community approaches every public policy decision. (Community: defined broadly to include every member of the human family)

I just got off the phone with a friend in California. My friend and I both arrived in Chapel Hill as UNC freshmen almost 20 years ago. Both of us had grown up in small North Carolina towns. Upon arrival, we learned about a man who just a year earlier had dared to honestly present himself to his community as an openly gay man and at the same time ask this same community to elect him to office. No one had successfully attempted such an audacious political act. During our conversation, my friend and I both confessed that it was the moment we heard about this guy that we knew we had found our "home town."

When I was first elected in 2001, I thanked Joe not only for his help on my campaign, but for providing this inspiration in my life and in the lives of every gay and lesbian citizen in this state. He sat in the audience and I watched as he embarrassingly shook his head.

I miss you Joe.

Joe's influence was felt well beyond North Carolina. Mike Nelson called this afternoon to tell of Joe's passing. This is part of what I wrote him after the shock of his call wore off:

The timing is poignant. I am just back from most of the week in Yellow Springs, Ohio as part of the Antioch alumni effort to save the college from the coup against it by the university board of trustees. Just yesterday as I was walking around the campus (on a beautiful fall day), I thought of Joe because of an earlier visit. About ten years ago while there I had a long talk with a history professor who knew Joe. Joe's resignation from the town board was still fresh, and he talked both of his affection and admiration for Joe and his anger at how things had developed that forced Joe from office.

Life works in strange and unexplainable ways. I can't say that I think of Joe, who I knew and loved and admired but was not really close to, every day. But I did this weekend as he was going through his last struggle.

May he have peace now, and let us keep the memories of the friend, fighter, pioneer, and inspiration that he was. We have lost a great friend and for the community which benefited from his many contributions and will feel his loss.

I moved here in the early 1990s and after I was here awhile I became familiar with who Joe Herzenberg was and what he looked like, although I never met him.

Then one day on a Friday late afternoon /early evening I was at He's Not Here having some beers with some friends and in walks Joe Herzenberg with a card table and a chair and some papers. And he sets up the card table puts a sign on it that says something like "Register to Vote Here" and sits down and waits for people to come over register to vote. I mean, I don't know if he could actually register people there or give them info how to register, but getting people registered was his purpose for being there. On a late Friday afternoon at He's Not Here no less, when everyone elses purpose for being there was drinking beer.

I thought it was kinda funny at first but as time passed I noticed nobody was going over to register or to ask him about registering. So I thought, wow, this guy really cares about this and nobody is showing interest, so after I finish drinking this beer and go on may way to get another, I'll stop over and talk to him and perhaps encourage him a bit. And then I went back to talking with my friends. And then the next time I looked back at Joe he was packing up and leaving. So I didn't get to talk with him that day and I never did meet him. I admire his tenacity in working to register people to vote in such an unlikely venue though.

RIP Joe.

Thank you, Mike, for calling me today about Joe's passing. Although I was not there in person, I am comforted that Joe was surrounded by those who love him, and I feel well represented by all who were there.

A few random thoughts...

My first memory of Joe was sitting around his kitchen table in the mid 1980s. I was there with Robert Reid-Pharr, Mike Nelson, Jim Duley, Lynn Hudson, and others, rapidly stuffing envelopes to raise financial and volunteer support for one of Joe's campaigns for Town Council. It was thrilling, because we all knew that we were attempting a radical move: electing an openly gay representative in North Carolina.

I don't know how, but Joe convinced this scared gay kid from rural NC that what we were trying to do was possible, noble, and historically inevitable. How right you were, Joe, as all the people Mike mentioned above can attest...as will all those who follow in your bold footsteps.

Joe became a great friend and mentor to so many of us who were involved in the Carolina Gay & Lesbian Association, and groups that later became NC Pride and EqualityNC. Our community was always there to return the favor come election time.

Students, in particular, had a deep fondness for Joe. I remember that in 1991, with the help of two very industrious students named Liz Stiles and Pippa Holloway, we were able to garner the largest number of names ever for an endorsement ad for his Town Council race. That was all out of love for him.

Some of my fondest memories of Joe revolve around food: the Stonewall Community Supper at Binkley Baptist, or meeting for a bite to eat at Crook's Corner, Pepper's Pizza, or Mama Dip's. What a repertoire for Joe, the vegetarian!

We shared a mutual love for anything unique or historical to Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Carolina, or our state. I was forever getting a call or postcard from Joe saying, "Did you know that so-and-so was the first lesbian from North Carolina to earn a Nobel prize?" Little treasures like that meant so much to me.

I remember the NC Pride marches, where Joe was basically our mascot, always carrying the American flag. He was always working to help other progressives to run for elective office, whether it was for Ellie Kinnaird, Harvey Gantt, Mark Chilton, Julia Boseman, or Gloria Faley.

One bit of political advice that Joe gave me in the 1980s was this: "In primaries, always vote your heart. You will have plenty of time to vote your head in the general election."

Good advice, Joe. You will always be primary choice. Much love.

Thank you all for sharing your memories of my Uncle. It is wonderful to see your recollections of Joe's many contributions to the Chapel Hill and beyond. I always admired his passion for politics, gay rights, history and bettering the community as a whole.
However, I would like to take this opportunity to remember him in a way that many of you likely do not think of Joe Herzenberg. The way that I will remember him most. As a loving Uncle to two children in New Jersey who lost their father (Joe's brother, David) too early, as a devoted brother-in-law and shoulder to cry on to a widowed wife, and as a seemingly endless book of knowledge linking the chains of our family history from one generation to the next. With his astute memory and knack for story telling, every one of Joe's tales of the past contained a touch of magic and helped keep my father's spirit alive.

Thank you for everything Uncle Joe.
You will be missed.

Oh, what sad news!

I voted for Joe H (and Mark too) in my very first election in 1991, when I was 18 and living in Hinton James dorm. It was quite inspiring as an 18 year old (especially as a transplant from the "liberal" north) to vote for two progressive leaders.

I later became friends with Joe H, and always enjoyed our chats at Pepper's over the years, which became decreasingly about politics and increasingly about life.

Joe will be missed.

(And Dan, thanks for writing this. And Ruby, thanks for posting this to facebook of all places. I wouldn't have known otherwise.)

I imagine there will be some kind of remembrance through one of Joe's chosen charities. If so, please share that information here.

I met Joe in 1976 when I enrolled in UNC Law School. He recruited me for the East Franklin Democratic Precinct Committee. He hadn't yet run for office himself, but he was a key player in progressive Chapel Hill. Thanks to my chance encounter with Joe, I met many other kindred spirits during my three years in town.

As is the way of these things, we drifted out of touch over the years. Nevertheless, I'll always remember his good humor and generosity of spirit. My sympathies go out to all of you in Chapel Hill who've lost a great friend and ally.

Donations in honor of Joe may be made to Equality NC (www.equalitync.org) or the InterFaith Council (www.ifcweb.org). These were two of Joe's favorite organizations.

I first met Joe a few years back when I had joined the CDC as the Transportation Board liaison and Joe was, I believe, the Historic Commission liaison. I knew of his political and community activist involvement over the years and was somewhat reticent about sitting next to him for fear that he would treat me as the newby I was to town affairs. Quite contrary to my fears, though, he was warm and welcoming and I became relaxed immediately. I only saw him at a few meetings after that and the last time I saw him, I think ,was last year at a Library Foundation fundraiser. But I will never forget how much he did for this town and the warm welcome he gave to me the first time I met him.

The following is an obituary compiled by Matt Stiegler and edited a little by some of Joe's friends:

Joseph A. Herzenberg 1941-2007

Joe Herzenberg -- the first openly gay elected official in the American South, an ardent defender of civil rights and the environment, and the unofficial Mayor of Franklin Street -- died on October 28, 2007 at UNC Hospital. He was 66 years old.

Joe was born June 25, 1941, to Morris & Margaret Herzenberg. His father owned the town pharmacy in Franklin, N.J., where Joe grew up.

After he graduated from Yale University in 1964 1963, Joe went to Mississippi to participate in voter registration for Freedom Summer. He joined the faculty of historically-black Tougaloo College, where was appointed chair of the history department. A very popular instructor, Joe was named an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. During this time, Joe was briefly married.

Joe arrived in Chapel Hill in the early 1970's to enroll as a graduate student in history at the University of North Carolina, and, along with his partner Lightning Brown, immediately immersed himself in local, state, and national politics. Although Joe's first campaign for Chapel Hill town council in 1979 was unsuccessful, he was appointed to the council that year to fill a vacant seat and served until 1981. In 1987, he was elected to the council, becoming the South's first openly gay elected official. He was re-elected in 1991 with the highest vote tally in the four seat race (and, up to that time, the highest vote total ever in a Town Council race), and served until 1993. As a council member, Joe was responsible for creation of the Chapel Hill greenway system and enactment of the town's tree protection ordinance.

Joe remained active in civic and political activities. He was a founding board member of Pride PAC, a statewide lesbian and gay political action committee now known as Equality NC. He also served on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and the Fund for Southern Communities. He served as chair of the local greenways commission, the tree commission, and the libraries bond task force, and served on several other local boards. Joe also organized Chapel Hill's annual Bill of Rights Day celebration.

Throughout his time in Chapel Hill, Joe was an ardent Democratic Party supporter, serving as longtime chair of his precinct. His party activism brought him brief notoriety in 1984, when Senator Jesse Helms angrily raged at his opponent Jim Hunt during a live televised debate “You're supported by people like Joe Herzenberg and Lightning Brown!” – a moment that Joe was forever after proud of. Joe received a Citizen's Award from the Independent newsweekly in 1984, the first year that award was given.

Joe was an enthusiastic traveler who visited all seven continents and all 50 states. He also loved art and music. He was a member of Chapel Hill Kehillah.

Joe is survived by his brother Bobby, his sister-in-law Debbie, his nephew Michael, and his niece Sarah. He was pre-deceased by his brother David.

In lieu of flowers, well-wishers are asked to make contributions in his name to Equality NC, www.equalitync.org, or the Inter-faith Council for Social Services, www.ifcweb.org.

adding to Joe's draft obit posted aboveby Mark C, Joe received his BA in 1963 and an MA in European History in 1965, both from Yale.

Will there be a memorial service?

Catherine, Kathie Young is working with Rabbi Jen at the Chapel Hill Kehillah to schedule a memorial service, most likely before Thanksgiving.

alos, I've edited Joe's wikipedia entry
to add more info on his Yale and Tougaloo years. Others are of course invited to add edits.

This is very sad news indeed. I had fewer interactions with Joe than I would have wished over past couple of years that I've known him, but I thoroughly enjoyed all of them and will miss him greatly. I believe Ruby first introduced me to Joe on the campaign trail in '05. Afterwards, he shared with me his perspective, tips, ideas, and expertise I couldn't have hoped for from anywhere else. His advice was keen and on point, but even more I appreciated his unparalleled knowledge of local history, which still fascinates me. Joe called me the night after the election to tell me he thought I did well, and to "keep at it." Instead, I felt pretty depressed and spent much of the next three months sitting around playing video games and catching up on much-needed sleep.

The next I saw him in person was at the East Franklin Democratic Precinct meeting in February. Again, we chatted for a good long time afterwards about local history and the world around us. Something compelled me to apologize for not taking more of the advice he had given me the previous fall. He and so many other folks had taken so much of their time to help me, and I felt genuinely guilty for not listening to them more. He responded with a question, which I'm sure I'm not quoting exactly but to paraphrase:

"Did you learn from your mistakes?"

- "Well, yeah, but I still could have..."

"Are you going to take what you learned and keep working hard for good causes?"

- "I plan on it."

"Then it was time well spent."

I wasn't sure whether he meant his time or my time, but in either case, it made me feel a lot better, and I remembered how our conversation cheered me up every time I've seen him since. Joe taught me a lot, but I'll always remember him not for our talk about politics, but for his kindness as a human being.

I want to add Adam's and my sadness and our admiration and thanks to Kathie Young for all she did for Joe. She helped him to attend so many events and gatherings and our community will deeply miss his presence, as we miss Joe and Lucy Straley.

Thanks to Orange Politics for giving us a place to gather today.

I met Joe (and Lightning) in 1987 when I was new to Chapel Hill and assigned to mediate a dispute involving Cobb Terrace the Women's Center. My talks with him about the dispute frequently broadened into conversations about local politics and the world at large and Judaism, and we became friends. I loved running into him on Franklin Street and spending the time catching up. When he was still taking his long walks, sometimes he trek all the way to my office in Carrboro. I was very surprised the first time I saw him driving in a car. He was the “go to guy” on the Town Council when I served on the Greenways Commission. One day when I had become very frustrated about the slow pace of greenways development, he took me on a long walk around campus and gave me a lecture about “duty.” Chapel Hill is so much better off having been Joe's home and base of operations, but today it feels like much less of a place with him gone.

Joe will be missed, not only in Chapel Hill and Orange County, but around NC. Like so many others I have many fond memories of Joe, way to many to mention here. I got to know Joe through NC Pride Pac when I joined the Board in the mid 90's. Being from Hickory NC we did not have too many openly gay people, much less an elected official. I had a group of gay men that met monthly for a social time and a program. I invited Joe up to speak so the local fellows could think ahead and envision a day when we would be a part of the political process, and incorporated into society - not outside looking in. Joe readily accepted the invitation and gave an excellent talk. His influence all across NC and the South will continue to be felt for many years to come. I consider it an honor and a privilege to have known him and to consider him a friend. I will miss him. Ed

Ruby and Dan, thanks for letting us know last night about Joe's passing; there was nothing in my paper this morning. The black border feels just right.

Without even thinking about it, I got weepy as I walked in front of the Post Office this morning, it just brought Joe to mind. For me, most of the time Joe made me laugh - when we saw each other, because I was 'one of his people' he always spoke with affection and respect even though there were times I'm sure he would have wanted to tell me in no uncertain terms exactly how he felt about something the University was doing. Instead he just gave me a pat or a hug and would raise his eyebrows a little. We would both laugh because he really didn't need to use any words. The last time I saw him, on Franklin Street of course, was a few months ago and he looked like he was doing better that he'd been, so I was optimistic. I'll miss him.

While Joe was an important and influential person in my life as a political activist, what I valued most was his great sense of humor, good stories, and some of the good times we shared. Joe was a regular at my annual Kentucky Derby Party. He always brought a bottle of bourbon and we talked about his relatives that owned racehorses and once had a horse in the Derby.
I remember Joe campaigning for Chapel Hill town council in San Jorge Nicaragua. The mayor and several others in San Jorge were presented with “Herzenberg for Town Council” buttons. Later several of us sang Christian hymns in a Nazarene church in San Jorge. Joe loved Christian church music and looked forward to any opportunity to sing hymns.
As an example of the crossover of constituent services and friendship, Joe made a live rat disappear outside of my apartment's front door. I never knew if Joe really caused the rat to disappear or if the timing of my complaint and its disappearance was a coincidence. He claimed the credit but when I asked how he got the job done he just got that mischievous grin on his face and wouldn't say a word.
While he hasn't been strolling Franklin Street Joe in awhile, truly he will be remembered as the mayor of Franklin Street. Joe, along with Rebecca Clark and I, petitioned the Chapel Hill Town Council to name the Post Office Square in honor of the political activists who stood in front of the post office over the years and begged us to act on our convictions. The first names to go on the plaque are to be Charlotte Adams and Joe and Lucy Straley. Now Joe's name should be the fourth.
I don't have much time to visit blogs but I really appreciate having this one available today. Diana

Goodbye, Joe.

I first met Joe in 1977 through my friend and ultimately my fellow member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, Doug Sharer. (Doug died all too young in the late 1980s.) Doug and I were involved with the Carrboro Community Coalition, an ad hoc group trying to change Carrboro government from conservative to progressive. Joe was a kind and gentle man, but a tough political tactition. His advice helped guide us to victory.

It doesn't seem fair that Joe didn't live longer so he could bask in the status of wise, old sage. But there is a lasting legacy; just look around you at the two towns in which we live.

Thanks, Joe.

Steve Rose

I have known Joe since I was an undergrad here and always loved running into him in various coffee shops around town- first Trio years ago and more recently Driade- it was always a joy to walk in and see Joe sitting there ready to chat about life, politics, history or books.

What I really wanted to share however was Joe's relationship with our boys. Since they were born Joe has been actively involved in expanding their literary horizons. Ask the boys about the three little pigs and you will hear a story that revolves around the three bad pigs and the good wolf, or are they really Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld? Whatever version they tell, the story will definitely include dynamite, barbed wire, video phones, a fancy teapot and flowers. I am looking forward to hearing how they pass the story on to their children.

Joe also made a big hit on Halloween. He and Kathy would show up, Joe in his muumuu and Kathy as the best Cat in the Hat. They boys loved it, although when they were very young they weren't ever really sure who was under the muumuu and the wig!

The boys loved Joe and our family will greatly miss his visits, books and fun spirit.


In 1980, Joe helped found the Fund for Southern Communities, a social justice public foundation. I was the organization's first executive director. Joe was a patient teacher. He helped me understand the destructiveness of homophobia and taught me how to help undo it. Joe, and other early LGBT members of the Fund's board, seeded the organization's now 25-year-long proud tradition of supporting LGBT rights organizing. The work goes on and Joe's courage and open spirit will continue to spread as justice is won.

This is a desolate day for Chapel Hill and for the dozens of us for whom Joe was friend, mentor, brunch-date, adviser, and endless source of history and stories over the years.

Amidst our sadness, it's worth reflecting that a real part of Joe's sneaky heroism was his determination in the face of personal adversity. I will always remember Joe as the top vote-getter in the 1991 council race, but (as many of you know far better than I) he was no overnight success. He ran for council in 1979, and he lost. He was appointed to fill a council vacancy later that year, ran for election as an incumbent in 1981, and lost. He ran again in 1983, and lost a third time.

Not many among us could have summoned the energy -- the courage, really -- for a fourth run at the town council. Joe did. He ran again in 1987, and he won. And in winning he made history, becoming the first openly gay elected official in the South. He was re-elected, resoundingly, in 1991.

And then, in the blink of an eye, it was gone again. It came to light that Joe had failed to pay his taxes over several years, and a very public humiliation resulted. Joe was forced to resign his seat on the council.

And the extraordinary thing isn't that he rebounded from this too -- as well as the death of Lightning Brown, the love of his life, in 1996 -- to carry on another decade and a half of effective, progressive civic leadership on several town and non-profit boards and assisting more campaigns and candidates. The amazing thing is that all of us who knew Joe weren't the least bit surprised.

Chapel Hill won't be the same without you, Joe.

I can't end without admitting that Joe might have deplored this portrait of him. He was in many ways an intensely private person, and never more so than when it came to defeats or embarrassments. But, today, it's some comfort for me (and I hope for others) to remember the bravery and grace with which he met the worst the world threw at him.

I suppose no one should be surprised at the length of the list of people posting here who considered Joe to be a mentor, in politics and in life. You can add my name to the list.

I had forgotten about the postcards! One postcard from the man could change your life... like the one I got saying "Are you interested in transportation? There's an opening on the Chapel Hill Transportation Board that you should apply for."

One of my first lessons from Joe -- when I failed to remember the name of someone to whom he had just introduced me: "If you care about people, you can remember their names." Certainly, no one ever questioned that Joe truly cared about people. It's a good feeling to see so many comments from people who cared about him.

- Richard

Joe was inspiration to us, in agreement and not. His interests were boundless, and his kindnesses always special because they made you think of the next possibility. Sidewalks, Antartica, Hinds Co (MS), and (Peppers) pizza never enter my mind without thinking of Joe.

I can't add anything other thank deep and humble thanks for having known Joe. He will forever remain (and I think I am proxy quoting former Mayor Brown) the "best of us," and the embodiment of that special Chapel Hill. He is always there on Franklin St in my mind.

There is not much I can say about Joe that hasn't already been said here, but here goes. I moved to Chicago from Chapel Hill/Carrboro more than eleven years ago, and I have never stopped missing the place and the people. The many times I worked with Joe -- or just chatted with him on Franklin Street -- are among my fondest memories of my seven years there.

I felt a little tug on the old heartstring today that led me to check out the News & Observer this morning. That tug must have been from Joe, because the first article I saw was a woefully short mention of his passing.

Joe inspired me from the first day I met him. As a city reporter for the DTH during my sophomore year, I somehow pulled the plum assignment of writing a profile of Joe. It was my interview with Joe that helped me realize I wanted to do more than just write about politics in Chapel Hill ... I wanted to help Joe make things happen.

For a few years in the 90s, I guess I did, but chairing CGLA/B-GLAD and making a little noise at the DTH in my senior year and in law school paled in comparison to Joe's many accomplishments. Every time I got a big head about some political victory I was lucky enough to be a part of, Joe was there to remind me that he and so many other folks -- including Lightning Brown and Mike Nelson -- had done a lot of work to pave the road before us.

Joe, you were not only my inspiration, but my conscience, my ego check, and my guide. I wish I had kept in touch with you after I left Chapel Hill, because there have been so many times over the last few years when it has been hard to feel inspired. Something tells me that if I had just picked up the phone to call you, I would never have had that problem. Joe, I miss you dearly!

I have to agree, Matt Stiegler. Joe would be embarassed by this outporing about him. But the kind words above are all much deserved. Diana, your description: "he just got that mischievous grin on his face and wouldn't say a word" made me start crying again - such a perfect description of the man - so exactly Joe Herzenberg.

Joe was one of the first people to believe in me - probably the only person besides me who thought I could win in the 1991 election. And there was never the slightest question in my mind that I would stand with you when you were facing the hardest part of your public life in 1993. I was always proud to call you my friend - even when you screwed up.

Like many of you, I think of Joe's sense of humor first and foremost. He was always making a dry remark. Joe was also a horrible gossip. He loved to share little tidbits he knew, though you always had the feeling that he knew just a little bit more than he would say. Part of the fun of running into Joe was hearing the latest word on the street - or at least part of it.

Joe was also very fond of children. He gave my children a book or two every time they saw him. And I know dozens of other parents who report the same. Joe was particularly dedicated to his niece and nephew. I am so glad you commented above, Michael. He was very proud of you and your sister. You must be ready for the NBA draft if all of Joe's stories about your basketball prowess are to be believed!

To sum it all up quite simply, Joe believed in a kinder and more inclusive world and he spent his whole life trying to create that world. Without reaching for melo-drama, let me point out that gay Jewish yankees from Yale were being murdered by the cops in Mississippi in 1964. Participating in the Freedom Summer was not a casusal decision. And it was not something that everyone did. It was the work of some tenacious, committed, and brave souls. Joe brought that same spirit to Chapel Hill with him in 1970, and he kept working to create the world he believed in for the rest of his life.

As Gerry said, you go on ahead Joe, we'll all join you soon enough. We love you.

Joe Herzenberg dies in Chapel Hill

Joe Herzenberg joe was quite a ubiquitous fixture around town and i'll miss seeing him. up to a few years...

Joe was one of the first people I met off-campus when I showed up in Chapel Hill in August 1988. I still had my Army buzzcut and an uptight military attitude, and I worried that I would get on poorly with the members of the Chapel Hill Town Council (my beat for The Daily Tar Heel).

Didn't happen. I remember that Joe made those first interviews easy by being patient and respectful and kind to me (which he certainly didn't need to be). I wasn't used to that.

We weren't friends, since I was just a journalism student passing through town, and he wouldn't have remembered me. But I always admired and respected Joe -- not only for his courage in being openly who he was (a trick most heterosexuals have yet to master), but for his devotion to his town. It was obvious and sincere and it was never for sale.

I just saw the news of his death, and it's nice to come here and find this outpouring from his friends.

I met Joe through my brother Mark Kleinschmidt. I would always see Joe at political events and around town . He would always ask about my daughter, Asia-marie. When he found out that she was working at Harris Teeter in Meadowmont, Joe would go by most Sundays and do his shopping. There were several times that Asia-marie would be helping other customers, and another cashier would say to Joe, "I can help you at my register." Joe would reply, no, I will wait for Asia-marie.

My point is he cared to talk to her, wait for her..... a teenage kid just to see how she is doing, how school is going.....just those couple minutes on a Sunday afternoon meant so much to her. It meant so much to me.

We will miss you, Joe!

Joe was a wonderful and impressive human being, somone who, along with Lightning, was so crucial and valuable a political presence in Chapel Hill in the early 1980s. It's wonderful to see, from afar, how much tremendous progress has been made there, and in Carrboro, over the past two decades. His contributions to that progress will always be remembered.

All these comments bring so many memories of the Joe Herzenberg I got to know and love. I first got to know Joe through various community and anti-nuclear organizing activities in the late 1970s – where he occasionally added a humored sense of perspective to my youthful anxiety over why I couldn't change the world in 10 seconds flat, and then gave me practical advice on next steps.

More so I got to know him as a fellow activist in the Fund for Southern Communities. Alan McGregor has summarized the pivotal role Joe played in that organization in its early days. I would simply add that Joe did as much as anyone to educate the group about why gay and lesbian issues should be at the forefront of our agenda, and combined patience and passion to joust with those who didn't see its importance in our early days.

I too treasure Diana's comment that “he just got that mischievous grin on his face and wouldn't say a word.” He usually turned a little red in the face at that point, and had the odd effect of making people think more about the situation than they would have if he had rambled on like the rest of us.

My memory of events is fading, but I believe that Joe was on the board and advocated for one of the early FSC grants to an odd group known as the Center for Community Self-Help – which had this odd idea of forming a people-oriented credit union. I know he supported some subsequent funding that FSC did for Self-Help – and was as enthusiastic about our work as he was about all other progressive causes in the Triangle.

I hadn't had the benefit of seeing Joe much in recent years, and my life was less sparkling for his absence. Knowing that he's passed on dulls my universe just a little bit more – but I appreciate having him come back to life in all these posted memories, and I'll try to keep his mentoring in mind for the future.

Along with my brother, I would like to share how consoling it is to read the extensive comments you have left about the impact our Uncle made in your community and how much he will be missed. As I am heartbroken and distraught over this great loss, I also feel a huge sense of pride that this incredible man is my uncle.
Everyone has done a beautiful job in sharing their memories and explaining what Uncle Joe meant to them, but I cannot express in words how he impacted my life. Although he is gone, Uncle Joe's love, wisdom, and sense of humor lives on and will continue to shape me (and many others) as a person for the rest of my life.

Thank you Uncle Joe for helping to make me who I am. I love you.
I will be strong for you.

Joe H also influenced me in town government.
In 1980 a developer petitioned the town to rezone
two blocks of South Columbia and Old Pittsboro Road so that
he could build an apartment building. My next-door
neighbor Martin Feinstein and I took what amounted to a
crash course in civics to learn about local government and
how the development process worked, while successfully
defending our neighborhood.
In the process, Joe Herzenberg and another locally famous Joe, Joe Straley, came to my house on Old Pittsboro Road to better understand the issue and learn our
take on it. We were very impressed that two elected
aldermen (yes, then they were so-called)
would take an interest in such a small matter.

I was sad to hear that Joe is no longer in our company, but I am so glad I had the opportunity to work with Joe during political campaigns in the late '70s and early 80s.
Best memory of Joe was during the 1978 ERA Walk on Washington. What a wonderful day and what a clear memory I have of walking down Pennsylvania Ave with Joe while he spoke intimately of the buildings and the people that served in them and their roles in history bringing them to life for me in a unique way.
He loved this country and the U.S. Constitution passionately, and lived his life in our neighborhoods working to protect both.
Christine Maybee Nadel

Doug Ferguson just called me in Sacramento with the sad news. I have the esteemed honor of probably being the only Republican Joe ever supported, championing me for a seat on the Chapel Hill Board of Zoning Appeals in the early 90's. This is not an outcome one would have expected based on our first meeting in 1985, when he expressed incredulousness that an out gay man could be a member of the GOP. We eventually, though, developed a mutual respect and admiration for each other and, although our political differences were legion, we were united in our beliefs about what made Chapel Hill such a special place. From Joe, I also learned by example that civil discourse and partisanship were not mutually exclusive. I am truly a better person ("albeit still a Republican" he might say) for having known him. RIP.

It is always sad and a great loss when a fellow freedom fighter passes on. But I'm sure Joe's attitude would be, "Don't mourn. Organize!" Although I did not know him well on a personal level, we worked on many issues together, especially in the early 1980s, when we were both members of the Rainbow Coalition of Conscience with Fred Battle. Over the years, we developed a comraderie based mainly on our mutual passion that the university and the town tell their history more honestly. He was the person who enlightened me about Sam Phillips, brother of white supremacist Cornelia Phillips Spencer, who risked his life and career prosecuting the KKK after Emancipation and became one of the state's leading Radical Republicans. Joe really wanted a historical marker honoring Sam Phillips placed near is former law office on Franklin St. Perhaps we can come together to make this happen.


I'm glad to see that Joe's niece and nephew have stopped in to see what is being said here. Sarah and Michael, please know that our thoughts are with you and your parents at this sad time.
The contributors here are a Who's Who of progressive activists in Chapel Hill. We all held Joe in very high esteem.

I met Joe circa 1975 when I waited tables at the Carolina Coffee Shop. He was a regular at dinnertime, usually choosing the soup du jour and bread, often sitting at one of the small tables for one and reading as he ate, but also chatting with staff and friends. He wore a suit and tie in those days and carried a briefcase, and delighted me by wearing very bright socks, often red ones, with his otherwise toned-down office clothes. My youngest brother also loves bright socks with his dark suits, and I have always called them his Joe Herzenberg socks in Joe's honor.

A few years later I helped start a feminist community library with 200 donated books and the help of many interested folks. Joe and his friend Lightning Brown were charter members, and wonderful friends and advisors to us throughout the library's existence. I will miss the warm and kind person that he was as well as the brave and capable worker for so many good causes.

Melody Ivins

I was heartbroken to find out about Joe's death today. Surprised because I had visited with him on Friday evening and Saturday morning and didn't realize it was my last time saying good bye to my friend.
Here are my precious memories of Joe:
I had heard of Joe when I first came to EmPOWERment but really got to know him two years ago when he walked up to me, placed an envelope in my hand, and assured me EmPOWERment had finally made the right decision to choose a black, female to run the organization (no disrespect to any of the former directors, these were his words). He was always supportive of our work.
I visited Joe in the hospital a year ago when he became ill. We talked about politics, history of African Americans in Chapel Hill, politics and more history. We realized we both had family in the Lafayette, NJ area. I've never met anyone who had heard of Lafayette much less had realatives that lived there ( He was very proud of his niece and nephew). I was honored to be invited to his birthday party this year and to be his date to a mid-day showing of "Dreamgirls"- the movie. Again we talked of those things that still need to change. I will always remember him for his rough exterior, his warm interior and his green hat. He became a very special friend to me.
Thank you Joe for always being yourself. Thank you Kathie for caring for him enough to keep his friends in touch. You are both special to me. All my respect- Delores

Chapel Hill has lost one of its kindest, most caring, and generous lights.

I can't remember when I first met Joe. It must have been in 1990. We shared mutual interests in progressive politics, the local political scene, and of course, voter
registration. Joe was thrilled at the idea of trying to awaken the sleeping student vote in Chapel Hill. He encouraged me at every turn to make it happen.

We also bonded over my home state of Rhode Island. Joe spent part of almost every summer with his family vacationing on Block Island, a beautiful, unspoiled little island off the coast of Southern RI that he loved.

Like many who have commented here, I've kept a small collection of postcards that Joe sent me over the years. His handwritten gestures followed me wherever I moved.

Joe befriended and mentored lots of students and young people in this town. It was a part of who he was, like his thoughtful postcards. And he kept up his interest even after most of us graduated and drifted away from Chapel Hill.

He didn't like computers. He enjoyed walking down Franklin Street and talking to people. Joe was old fashioned and very human.

Joe made me aware of the example set by Allard Lowenstein, one of his kindred spirits who, like Joe, had a flair for inspiring the young, worked tirelessly for progressive causes, and shared Chapel Hill ties. Both Joe and Allard Lowenstein are near the top of my list of all time political heroes, and I think it's fitting that one introduced me to the other.

When Joe believed in something, he put his energy, resources, and spirit behind it. And it was infectious. His enthusiasm and sense of the possible about doing good in local politics got me and plenty of others involved.

Joe crusaded to elect progressive candidates to office, from the local to national level. He provided crucial early financial, organizational, and moral support for countless progressive campaigns in NC.

I think the two most prominent examples include when Joe backed Harvey Gantt for the Democratic Senate nomination in 1990. At the time, the party establishment was lined up behind Mike Easley, then a little known Eastern NC prosecutor. Easley's chief qualification among party insiders for taking on Jesse Helms seemed to be that unlike Gantt, his platform was more middle of the road and uninspiring than progressive, and he wasn't black. And in 1998, Joe was a very early backer of John Edwards' Senate campaign, despite the overwhelming support in Chapel Hill for UNC Vice President D.G. Martin.

Looking back on the conversations we've had over the years, I think about all the places around town I remember talking or having lunch with him. I loved talking with Joe. Besides his always perceptive take (and inside dope) on the latest political news, he was full of personal stories - about his adventures growing up in New Jersey, living and working in Mississippi during the 60's, and what Chapel Hill was like in the 70's and 80's. He was our resident wise man.

I've been numb ever since I first heard the news yesterday morning. The last time I saw and spoke with Joe was at the grocery store. We talked for a while, first walking the aisles, then I followed him outside and said goodbye when Kathie pulled the car around. I realized from what he told me how close he'd come to death about a year ago. But he looked much better. I regret not seeing more of him over these past couple of years. I'm mad that he's left us too early. I'm sorry he got so sick. I remember him full of life and laughter. I'll miss him. Everyone who knew him will, too.

Farewell, Joe,

Not much to add, except that I had known Joe since the late '70's,
and he was always just Joe---Genuine in an arena of the disingenuous, hilarious among the humorless, expansive among the rigid, and as Diana mentioned, imbued with a warmth and underlying mischieviousness that defines a 'twinkle in the eye'.

And as has been mentioned, a special bow to Kathie: The role of caregiver to, and advocate for, an Ill loved one is one of the most difficult and stressful roles that one can play in life---Everyone who does this is a hero.


Since Joe's great public accomplishments have been listed here I would like share one of his personal accomplishmnets:

I met Joe when I was 14. I met him one day when I was walking down Franklin Street. I had dropped out of high school and was moving back home to live with my parents. That was almost 30 years ago. In between all those years we became good friends. He encouraged and mentored me as I was growing up. I was privileged to be one of his neighbors in Cobb Terrace when I was in school. We had many phone conversations at night after I had moved away and it was comforting thinking of him in his home in Cobb Terrace. I received so many postcards from Joe-he has his own shoebox!

I eventually made it back to Chapel Hill to attend art school at UNC. I left Chapel Hill to move to New York to pursue my art career. I recently left my job as a designer at Ralph Lauren to work as an art director for Abercrombie and Fitch in Columbus, OH (now my vote really counts!!!). Without Joe's guidance and support I would not have been able to accomplish any of the things I've mentioned-he had that great of an impact on my life.

I came down from Manhattan to visit Joe over the holidays in 2006 and I was shaken by his state of health. We had a couple of meals and some wonderful conversations.

Joe didn't judge me all those years ago when we met because I was "sraight" and I didn't judge him because he was "gay". He was such a man of fairness. He once told me early on "If you pre-judge people you'll never have any friends" and "you should always be yourself".

Thank you Joe for helping to make a life where there almost wasn't one. I love you and I will miss you.

Your Friend,

I met Joe through my service on the Greenways Commission. Even through short interactions his compassion, humor, sense of adventure, and committment to his beliefs was apparent. Joe was the 'squeaky wheel' both large and small for people who could not speak up or did not know they should.

While on the Commission Joe and I adopted kittens from friends of Joe. His cat always sent her siblings a humorous holiday greeting. I learned this week his cat has a new loving home, I offered to let her come live with her siblings again.

I'll miss you Joe, you touched the lives of so many people in a unique and memorable way.



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