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Bono & Jesse Helms: pairing up for good

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The late Jesse Helms, a former senator from North Carolina, was known as a tough sell when it came to foreign aid. That is, until rock icon Bono showed up.

In 2000, word came to Helms that some rock star wanted to meet with him about increasing U.S. aid to Africa. Helms didn’t know who the guy was. (His staff told him.) But as soon as they met, Helms says, he knew Bono was for real.

Here are the qualities Helms admired in Bono:
  • He had his facts in hand.

  • He was dedicated to his cause and had no agenda other than serving people in desperate need. There was no pretense about him.

  • He helped Helms understand the scope of the AIDS epidemic in Africa, especially the pain it is inflicting on infants and children.

  • He was ready to make decisions.

  • He was willing to work with anyone, even a conservative senator from North Carolina.
After their first meeting, Bono invited Helms to hear his band— U2—at a nearby concert. Watching the audience sway to the music reminded the senior lawmaker of a cornfield rustling in the wind. Later, Helms teamed up with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to pass a bill authorizing $200 million to fight AIDS in Africa.

—Adapted from “Bono: I Knew That He Was Genuine,” Jesse Helms, Time.

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