My Friend Mark Stephens
This is not a eulogy or an attempt to capture Mark Stephens in writing; that would be an impossible task. It’s merely an effort to explain why I loved him so much.
Much was lost on August 11, 2016 when Mark Stephens went to be with the Lord. Of course we like to say that he “went to a better place”…it makes us feel better. But I don’t say it in a cavalier manner, I say it completely seriously.
Romans 10:9 says that if you “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Mark did that many years ago and endeavored to live a life that would be pleasing to God. And if you happen to be reading this I encourage you to do business with the God of the universe.
Now…about Mark Stephens…where do I start? I would describe Mark as a redneck Renaissance man, a philosopher king. Plato defined philosophers as “wisdom lovers”. That’s a good description of Mark. In a sea of shallowness, Mark was a big thinker and a man of great depth.
Of course, the many candidates Mark vanquished may not remember or appreciate him for his big thoughts. Mark was also a ‘no holds barred’ bare-knuckled scrapper. Most of today’s political operatives talk big if they are merely involved in one successful campaign, and many of them never worked on a real campaign outside of the party committee offices in DC.
But Mark Stephens played significant leadership roles in 7, yes 7, US Senate victories. And none of them were layups. Mark was a big teddy bear, unless you happened to be running against his candidate, then he was a grizzly.
I first met Mark when he was working on the now famous Jesse Helms vs. Harvey Gant Senate race of 1990. I was working for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and since I was the most Neanderthal conservative at the NRSC, they sent me to deal with the Helms campaign.
Our first meeting was in 1989 at the Helms campaign headquarters in Raleigh, NC. Mark told me that he didn’t have much use for the national Republican Party. I of course told him that I didn’t either. It was the beginning of a tremendous friendship. Ironically, years later I became the political director at the RNC and Mark served as executive director for the NRSC. Go figure.
I have to say that I greatly admired Mark’s aw shucks southern country act. Oh, the southern part wasn’t an act, but the deliberative slow talking thing was something he used to great advantage. I don’t know how many times I would get a phone call where it would start something like this – “aye, uh, aye, uh, Curtie, I don’t know much, I’m just an old country boy from Carolina, but I been thinkin….”
There was nothing “metro” about Mark. Mark was an old-school man’s man, and a true southern gentleman. Women were usually “sweetie” or “darlin”, and he treated them with great respect.
Make no mistake about this – the reason Mark devoted his professional life to winning elections had nothing to do with vanity or money or self-advancement or even the Republican Party. Mark’s motivation was his great love for this country and his great concern about the direction we are sliding.
True friendships are hard to explain. Sometimes Mark and I worked on campaigns together and spoke every day. In other seasons, we would only speak every few months. But for some reason, we just simply connected, we understood each other, I suppose we shared a very similar world view. I liked talking to Mark about anything — history, politics, football, theology, food, family, you name it — he could converse about it.
I will miss Mark. Cindy and the kids and grandkids will miss him more than the rest of us will of course. As King David said, roughly paraphrased – he will not come back to us, but we will go to him.