Sen. Vernon Malone’s death today was sudden. Just a week ago, at the meeting of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African-American Children in Southeast Raleigh, Malone looked well and was talking energetically about the importance of the upcoming school board elections in Wake County. Malone was among the leaders of the movement to merge the old Raleigh and Wake County school districts in the ’70s and, later, of efforts to promote racial integration in all of the merged system’s schools.

“We’ve lost a fine public servant,” said Wake County Commissioners Chair Harold Webb, his longtime friend and political ally.

‘Senator Vernon Malone was a man of great character. He gave his heart and soul to helping other people. He worked every day to build a stronger community. He believed in working in the trenches to uplift the lives of those who could not help themselves. He believed in the value of education and he dedicated his life to making sure people of all races had the opportunity to get an education so they could live a better life.”

Lindy Brown, Wake Commissioners vice chair, called Malone “a pillar of public service … who lit the torch of leadership for the African American community and all of Wake County.”

Malone was a teacher, superintendent of the Governor Morehead School in Raleigh, and a county commissoner; he was elected to the Senate in 2002 and re-elected three times, most recently last November.