The past 20 months have not been easy for former State Rep. Larry Womble.
The weeks and months that have stretched out since the Dec. 2, 2011 car accident that nearly took his life have been filled with recovery efforts. The road to restored health has been long and arduous, said Womble, who gave up his seat in the North Carolina House of Representatives last year to focus on his health.
“It’s slow – very slow,” the Winston-Salem State University alumnus said of his recovery. “But then people always remind me, ‘In the year or year and a half since the accident to where you are now, it is not slow – it’s miraculous.’”
Womble’s situation was so tenuous in the early days that his doctor dubbed him the “Miracle Man.”
“At one time, I could not talk at all,” he noted. “By the grace of the Lord and by the help of a lot of friends, I’ve made it this far.”
Since the crash, Womble has received an outpouring of support from well wishers from around the world. Kenyan Ambassador and former Prime Minister Raila Odenga even visited him earlier this month. Before the accident, Womble spent part of every year in the African nation. He is credited with starting a donation program that has put books in the hands of thousands of Kenyans and other Africans.
“I keep my spirit up from the people that come in contact with me and communicate with me and talk with me and send me letters and phone calls and come and visit,” he remarked. “I’m drawing off of their energy and I’m drawing off of their commitments and their faith.”
Womble suffered multiple fractures in his legs in the head-on collision, which took the life of the other driver, David Carmichael, and says he is working hard to get back on his feet. The veteran lawmaker reported that he is now able to leave his wheelchair and walk short distances with the aid of a walker.
“That’s the last major hurdle, for me to try to walk,” he said. “Most of the other things have been addressed or are being addressed.”
Slowly but surely, Womble is returning to the public eye. He is slated to deliver his first keynote speech since the accident on Saturday, during the Liberian Organization of the Piedmont’s Liberian Independence & Flag Day Celebration at the Odd Fellows Clubhouse on Park Ridge Circle.
“As days pass, you’ll be seeing more of me. I don’t know about being in the position of keynote speaker, but being with the people and being among the people,” said Womble, one of the original members of the LOP. “Right now, immediately, (my goal) is to be restored to my health and to my strength and quite naturally, a lot of that I owe to the Almighty God.”
Womble has kept up to date on the political issues that are affecting citizens of the city and state, and says the news that the General Assembly had finally approved $10 million in compensation for victims of the state’s now defunct eugenics program was music to his ears. As a member of the General Assembly, Womble fought for over a decade to secure compensation for the victims – nearly 170 of whom have been identified by the state – but the measure was cut out of the budget last year. Gov. Pat McCrory included it in his budget this time around, Womble said.
“I had a feeling or an inclination that he would support it,” he said of McCrory. “I was very happy and satisfied with him doing that and as a result of that, North Carolina became the only state in this nation to do compensation for what the government had done to the people.”
Womble was a well known advocate for citizens who were forcibly sterilized by the state Eugenics Board.
“Rep. Womble, he was the drum major for those victims,” said State Sen. Earline Parmon, who worked alongside Womble to secure funding for the victims during her time in the NC House. “Out of 120 representatives, he took the lead on this. It was Larry Womble that stayed on top of them and wouldn’t let up. I’m just excited that Rep. Womble was able to see this happen.”
Over the years, Womble has made many strides in eugenics legislation, including an apology from then-Gov. Mike Easley, a historical marker highlighting the state’s role in the devastating practice, a traveling exhibit about the Eugenics Board, and approval to have information about the practice included in curricula of students statewide.
“This is the capstone of all of the activities, of all of the events and all of the rulings and all of the hearings and all of the meetings that I had,” said Womble, who often paid out of his own pocket to transport victims to and from the legislature for hearings. “I always had confidence that it would get there.”
Despite his excitement over finally securing the compensation for the victims, Womble, a Democrat, said he is distressed by many of the initiatives his conservative counterparts are spearheading in Raleigh.
“I’m not happy with some of the things that are going on now, with the way they’ve taken some steps and decisions on voter registration and voter ID,” he declared. “I’m not happy with what they’ve done with unemployment, but I do support the citizens who are voicing their opinions (during Moral Mondays protests and other demonstrations). I think it’s always good for citizens to be involved in the government. It’s one thing to talk about it. It’s another thing to get involved.”
Womble said he is also concerned about changes that have been made in public education, from doing away with career (tenure) status, to eliminating stipends for teachers who pursue graduate degrees.
“It’s been very detrimental to the education profession,” said the former school administrator. “It sends a bad signal, a bad message, throughout the United States that North Carolina is not friendly towards education.”
As his health improves, Womble says he may take a more active role in advocating for the causes he cares about again.
“A lot of people have asked me to do that,” he said of returning to politics. “I’m going to take each step as it comes, each day as it comes, but I’m going to consider any opportunity when it becomes available.
“There’s that burning desire in my heart to try to make a contribution in some kind of way, and if I can make a positive contribution by getting back in it, then I will,” he added. “I’ve never been one to say never.”
Womble recently filed a lawsuit against the owners of Sixth and Vine, the downtown bar and restaurant where Carmichael reportedly drank alcohol before the crash. The suit alleges that Carmichael was served even after it was obvious he was intoxicated. Womble, on the advice of his attorney, would not discuss the suit.