U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms bid farewell to his loyal following of North Carolina farmers in December.

“I come to you this morning to pay my respects to you and to tell you I love you,” Helms told about 500 members of the North Carolina Farm Bureau at the group's annual convention in Greensboro.

Both the North Carolina and the American Farm Bureau awarded Helms with their highest honor and presented a video montage of Helms' past appearances before the group.

The Farm Bureau convention was a fitting venue for Helms to close out his tenure, Larry Wooten, president of the North Carolina Farm Bureau, said in published reports. Wooten said Helms ended his career the way it began: With farmers on his mind. “His seniority is going to be missed.”

U.S. Sen.-elect Elizabeth Dole introduced the retiring senator. Helms, a former chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, gave his blessing to his successor.

In her remarks to the convention, Dole pledged to push for buyout legislation for tobacco farmers and promised to seek additional drought relief. Dole will be sworn in Jan. 7.

Helms and Dole spent nearly an hour on stage afterwards as Farm Bureau members sought autographs, pictures and handshakes. Helms served five terms in the Senate and developed an appeal to rural Democratic voters Down East in North Carolina. Those voters became known as “Jessecrats.”