Senator Helms was born in Monroe, North Carolina on October 18, 1921. He attended the Monroe public schools, Wingate (NC) Junior College and Wake Forest College.
He served in the U.S. Navy from 1942 through 1945. After WWII, he became the city editor of The Raleigh Times, and later, Director of News and Programs for the Tobacco Radio Network and Radio Station WRAL, in Raleigh.
He served as Administrative Assistant to United States Senator Willis Smith from 1951 to 1953 and United States Senator Alton Lennon in 1953.
From 1953 through 1960, Mr. Helms was Executive Director of the North Carolina Bankers Association, and served as editor of the Tarheel Banker, which became the largest state banking publication in America under his stewardship.
He was Executive Vice President, Vice Chairman of the Board and assistant Chief Executive Officer of Capitol Broadcasting Company, Raleigh, North Carolina, from 1960 until his election to the Senate. From 1960 until he filed for the Senate in 1972, Mr. Helms wrote and presented daily editorials on WRAL-TV and the Tobacco Radio Network. His editorials were printed regularly in more than 200 newspapers throughout the United States. They were broadcast by more than 70 radio stations in North Carolina.
He served two two-year terms on the Raleigh City Council. During the four years, 1957 to 1961, he served as Chairman of the Council's Law and Finance Committee. He is past president of the Raleigh Rotary Club, and the Raleigh Executives Club. He is a 33rd degree Mason, Grand Lodge of Masons of North Carolina (Grand Orator, 1965, 1982, and 1991) and is a member of the Shrine.
He is a Baptist, and prior to his election to the Senate served as a deacon and a Sunday School teacher at Hayes Barton Baptist Church in Raleigh.
He was one of the founders and serves as a director of Camp Willow Run, a Youth Camp for Christ at Littleton, North Carolina.
His name was placed in nomination for Vice President of the United States at the GOP convention in Kansas City in 1976. Although he asked the convention to withdraw his name, he nevertheless received 99 delegate votes.
In 1980, he was presented the Legislator of the Year Award by Christians for a Better America and proclaimed the National Man of the Year in Politics by Christian Voice, Inc. Also, in the same year, he received the North Carolina Public Service Award.
In 1980, 1981, and 1983, he was voted the Most Admired Conservative in Congress, by the readers of Conservative Digest.
He has received the Guardian of Small Business Award from the National Federation of Independent Business and the Watchdog of the Treasury Award form the National Associated Businessmen every year since his election in 1973. In addition, he has received the Taxpayers' Best Friend Award from the National Taxpayers' Union every year since 1981.
As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he was one of the most powerful men on Capitol Hill, known as a fierce foe of Communism, arms control agreements and Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Domestically he clashed with liberals over issues ranging from school busing to the National Endowment for the Arts. (He was sometimes called "Senator No" for his implacable opposition to liberal initiatives.) He gained notoriety for his outspoken, often unyielding support of right-wing causes in the Senate. He has championed a strong military establishment and prayer in the public schools while opposing gun control and abortion.
He is married to the former Dorothy Jane Coble of Raleigh. He is the father of three children: Jane (Mrs. Charles R. Knox), Nancy (Mrs. John Stuart) of Raleigh and Charles of Winston-Salem, and has seven grandchildren.
Senator Helms began his first term in the Senate in January 1973; was reelected to a second term on November 7, 1978; to a third term on November 6, 1984; a fourth term on November 6, 1990; and a fifth term on November 7, 1996. Senator Helms announced his decision to not run for re-election again in the 2002 election cycle, and to go into retirement.