Keith Crisco – who was battling former American Idol runner up Clay Aiken for the Democratic nomination in North Carolina’s Second Congressional District – died suddenly at his home in Asheboro Monday afternoon.
Crisco, 71, suffered a fall at his home. His long-time campaign strategist Brad Crone told ABC11 Tuesday that Crisco apparently slipped on a rug outside his home and fell backwards – hitting his head on brick pavers. He died instantly.
Monday evening, Crisco’s family released a statement: “We are heartbroken to share the news that Keith has passed away after an accidental fall at his home this afternoon. Keith was our loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend. He was a remarkable man with a tremendous dedication to his family and to public service. We appreciate the outpouring of love from our family and friends and all who knew him.”
“I know him from when he became the commerce secretary appointed by the then-Gov. Bev Purdue,” said Ron Sanyal, who also ran for a congressional seat.
Sanyal is one of many politicians who got to know Crisco on a more personal level.
“Keith Crisco was a gentleman, and I’m just heartbroken because he was a good leader for North Carolina,” said Sanyal.
Aiken was leading Crisco by fewer than 400 votes after the contest last week. A final tally issued by state election officials Tuesday showed Aiken winning by 399 votes. Aiken announced he was suspending all campaign activities in the wake of Crisco’s death – saying he was stunned by the news.
“Keith came from humble beginnings. No matter how high he rose, to Harvard, to the White House and to the Governor’s Cabinet, he never forgot where he came from. He was a gentleman, a good and honorable man and an extraordinary public servant. I was honored to know him,” said Aiken in a statement.
After being declared the winner, Aiken will face Republican incumbent Renee Ellmers in November in the GOP-leaning 2nd Congressional District.
Crisco was born and raised in North Carolina. He graduated from Pfeiffer University with a BA in mathematics and physics and received a master of business administration from Harvard University.
In 1970 and 1971, he served as a White House fellow with a position of Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. In 1978, Crisco became the president of Stedman Elastics in Asheboro. He has served on the Asheboro City Council.
In 2009, he was appointed as Secretary of Commerce for North Carolina and served until 2013. Crisco was also a member of the University of North Carolina School of Public Health Advisory Council.
He also served as board chair for Bennett College and the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research.
Crisco was married for 49 years to his wife Jane. They had three children and six grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held on Friday at 2 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, at 224 North Fayetteville Street in Asheboro. The family will receive friends on Thursday from 6 – 8 p.m. at Pugh Funeral Home at 437 Sunset Avenue in Asheboro.
“We are incredibly shocked and saddened to hear about Keith Crisco’s sudden passing. Keith was an accomplished businessman and public servant with a sterling reputation and a tremendous amount of respect from North Carolinians across the partisan spectrum. Keith, like my father, served the state as Commerce Secretary with dignity and humility, and also like my father, passed away well before his time. Keith’s family is in our thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time,” said a statement from the NCGOP.
The State Board of Elections released a statement on Crisco’s death. It read: “A native of North Carolina, we are grateful for Mr. Crisco’s service to our state and his community through the years. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Crisco family during this difficult time.”
“My deepest condolences go out to the Crisco family on the passing of one of our state’s most widely-respected public officials, Keith Crisco. I was honored to work with him on many issues that positively impacted the people of North Carolina, and I was struck by his professionalism and dedication to the citizens he served. He never wavered in his determination to improve the state he was so proud to call home. We will keep his family in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time,” said N.C. Speaker of the House Rep. Thom Tillis.
“I am deeply saddened by this sudden and painful tragedy and wish God’s blessings for Keith’s family through the coming days. His kindness and dedication to his principles were models we should all strive toward, and he will be dearly missed. My thoughts and prayers are with Keith’s family, friends and loved ones during this difficult time,” said Rep. Renee Ellmers.
“My heart sank, like so many other people who admired Keith Crisco, when I learned of his sudden passing,” said Gov. Pat McCrory. “While I was a mayor, and now as governor, Keith was a partner, collaborator and strong advocate for the state he loved. Although Keith was a Democrat and a Pfeiffer University graduate, and I went to Catawba and am a Republican, nothing could stop Keith Crisco from building a lasting friendship. North Carolina was blessed and is a better state because of his leadership.”
“I am shocked and saddened by the sudden loss of Keith Crisco, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Jane, and his entire family, who have suffered a terrible loss,” said Sen. Kay Hagan. “I had the distinct privilege of working with Keith for many years and I was honored to call him a friend. Keith was a savvy businessman, a passionate public servant and a champion for economic development, but more than that, he was kind. Keith’s inherent kindness was evident to everyone he met, and he dedicated his life to making North Carolina a better place to live for everyone. While he worked tirelessly to bring good jobs to our state, he stood up for education, for our seniors and the most vulnerable among us always pushing to make North Carolina a little stronger and a little better. Our state is undoubtedly better and stronger because of Keith Crisco’s service.”
“Since we met during my first campaign in 1986, I have come to know Keith Crisco as a friend, a business leader and an outstanding public servant. As Secretary of Commerce, Keith worked tirelessly, during the worst economic downturn in decades, to put North Carolina on the path to recovery and to increase economic opportunity for all of her people. He cared deeply about our state, and he was seeking to continue serving his fellow Tar Heels by running for Congress. My wife Lisa and I are deeply saddened to learn of his passing, and our thoughts are with his family,” said Rep. David Price.
“Brooke and I were shocked to hear the news of Keith Crisco’s untimely death. I considered Keith a close, personal friend and I know how much he cared for the state of North Carolina. He will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with Keith’s family at this difficult time,” said Sen. Richard Burr.
“I am very saddened to hear of the passing of Keith Crisco. Mr. Crisco was a dedicated public servant to the State of North Carolina and he will be greatly missed. Renee and I send our thoughts and prayers to his family and loved ones during this difficult time,” said Rep. Richard Hudson.
“Bob and I are devastated to learn that our good friend Keith Crisco has died. He and Jane were tremendous personal friends as well as colleagues Keith was a great North Carolinian who always did what he believed was best for his county, his state and his country. Political parties and perception were never part of his decision making. I asked him to leave Asheboro Elastics to be Commerce Secretary during the worst economic times since the Great Depression. He accepted that responsibility without hesitation because he loved this state and wanted to help when times were hard. His efforts helped in attracting more than 120,000 jobs as he worked across our state in both rural and urban areas and around the world to bring new jobs, expand existing jobs and stabilize our economy. Keith was one of North Carolina’s giants who made a real difference everyday he lived. He was active in local issues and loved The Lord. His wife Jane and their wonderful family were central to his life. Bob and I send our prayers and love to them and give thanks for their sacrifice in letting Keith share his life with us and the people of this state,” said former Gov. Bev Perdue.