James W. Nance, a retired Navy Rear Admiral who took on a late-career job as the chief aide to his old boyhood friend Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, died on Tuesday at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He was 77 and lived in McLean, Virginia.
Marc A. Thiessen, the spokesman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where Nance was staff director, said the cause was complications of myelodysplasia, a pre-leukemia condition.
On Capitol Hill, Nance was known for having brought order to the committee's Republican staff, which Helms, the senior Republican, and others on the panel had found disorganized and riven by ideological differences.
"When I came over here, I couldn't understand the organization," Nance said in a 1992 interview with The National Journal after agreeing to come out of retirement a year earlier to help his old friend. "It was a zoo to me. My military mind has got to have all the men and women in line."
Nance's role was important then, when Helms was the committee's ranking minority member, and it became more important later, when, after the 1994 elections, the Republicans took control of the Senate and Helms became chairman.
Before Nance was brought in, The National Journal said in its 1992 article, there had been a movement among the committee's Republicans to remove Helms as their leader because of the minority staff's disarray.
Helms accepted Nance's recommendation that eight members of the staff be fired, and, although there was an angry reaction at first, Republican leaders later said the Nance replacements had brought order to the panel.
Nance was born in Monroe, North Carolina, where he and Helms grew up two blocks from each other. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1944 and went on to serve as a naval aviator in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. By the time he retired from the Navy in 1979, he had held several commands, including that of the aircraft carrier Forrestal.
He became a humorous if caustic reflection of the Helms, who seems to enjoy saying no to State Department requests. Once, when questioning the benefits given to ambassadors abroad, including hardship pay at some posts, Nance said: "I fought at Iwo Jima. That's hardship."
He had many Navy decorations, including two Distinguished Service Medals and the Legion of Merit.
After his Navy service, Nance served for two years on the White House staff of President Ronald Reagan and later worked for Boeing in its naval systems department.
Besides the Naval Academy, he graduated from the Naval War College and the National War College, and received a master's degree in international relations from George Washington University.
Nance, who was known as Bud to his friends, is survived by his wife of 51 years, the former Mary Lyda Faulk; two sons, James Lee Nance of Richmond and Andrew Monroe Nance of McLean; two daughters, Mary Catherine Worth of Atlanta and Susan Elizabeth Nance of McLean, and seven grandchildren.
When Nance agreed to go to work for Helms, The Washington Times reported in an obituary on Wednesday, he asked that he not be paid, but the senator pointed out that a federal law required that Senate staff members be paid a minimum of $153 a year.
Once he went to work for the $153, Nance said, "Nobody can ever say Jesse gave his old buddy a job."
Helms, noting that his friend's pay came out to $2.94 a week, said, "Bud's worth every penny."
James Wilson "Bud" Nance, 77, a retired Navy rear admiral and former White House national security affairs adviser who as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's chief of staff was regarded as a pragmatic influence on his childhood friend, Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), died of complications from a preliminary form of leukemia May 11, 1999 at the National Institutes of
Admiral Nance, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and former naval aviator and test pilot, was a self-described conservative Republican who reportedly advised Helms, the committee's chairman, to tone down his sometimes fiery rhetoric and confrontational approach when tackling issues.
Their close relationship was based on a mutual trust that stemmed from their days growing up in their native Monroe, North Carolina. Over the years since they played in the same elementary school band, they periodically kept in touch. Although the two shared similar political philosophies, Admiral Nance was considered Helms's opposite in many aspects, coming across as a more courtly, hard-nosed figure with an easy laugh and a loathing of the limelight.
He did have critics. A POW group called on Helms to fire Admiral Nance because of what they said was the committee's lack of attention to their cause. Still, he was seen as an affable father figure in Washington's corridors, where colleagues referred to him simply as "the admiral."
At Helms's urging, Admiral Nance, who had an illustrious 38-year career in the Navy, joined the committee in 1991 to help improve the minority staff's efficiency. Saying the government already had done plenty for him, Admiral Nance accepted the job on the condition that he would work for free.
But, as it turned out, laboring without a salary was not an option under Senate rules. He was paid Congress's then minimum of $2.96 a week. Later, two cost-of-living pay increases bumped his weekly salary to $4.53. Still, he wasted little time with the task put before him, overhauling the staff by releasing deadwood and malcontents, hiring whiz kids and shifting old-timers around.
After the Republicans swept into the majority in the 1994 mid-term elections, Admiral Nance was placed in charge of the transition on the Foreign Relations Committee and predicted that Senate members would play a larger role in foreign policy hot spots. He was coming into the office as recently as last week, showing up as he did every day at 7 a.m. and returning to his home in McLean in the evening.
Admiral Nance was no stranger to the committee's workings, having served as a consultant to the committee during the SALT II deliberations. In 1981, he joined the White House as President Ronald Reagan's deputy assistant for national security affairs, and for a brief time, he was acting chief special assistant for national security affairs, temporarily replacing Richard V. Allen.
As a young man, he attended what is now North Carolina State University and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1944. He was assigned to the battleship USS North Carolina and served there throughout the remainder of World War II.
After the war, he underwent flight training and served as a flight instructor at the Naval Air Basic Training Command of the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. He was assigned to exchange duty with the British Royal Navy in the mid-1950s and was a project pilot with the Flight Test Division at the Naval Air Test Center in Patuxent River. In the latter assignment, he test-landed aircraft on carriers.
Before his military retirement in 1979, he served as the senior naval officer on the staff of the commander of U.S. forces in Europe when Alexander Haig held the combined job of U.S. and NATO commander. He also held strategic and planning posts in the Pentagon and was commander of the aircraft carrier Forrestal.
His military honors included two Distinguished Service Medals and the Legion of Merit.
He received a master's degree in international relations from George Washington University and attended the U.S. Naval War College and the U.S. National War College.
In the 1980s, he worked for Boeing Military Airplane Co., where he was manager of Navy systems.
Survivors include his wife, the former Mary Lyda Faulk of McLean; four children, James Lee Nance of Richmond, Mary Catherine Worth of Atlanta and Andrew Monroe Nance and Susan Elizabeth Nance, both of McLean; and seven grandchildren.