Whichard portrait presented at Supreme Court

Jul. 14, 2014 @ 07:36 AM

DURHAM - After Willis Whichard's lifetime of service to Durham and the state, his portrait now joins those of other justices at the North Carolina Supreme Court, where he served for 12 years.

The painting of Whichard, a Durham native, was presented July 1.

"No member of the court has done more, in more capacities or with greater distinction, for the Old North State than the man whose portrait we dedicate today," Raleigh attorney and close friend Martin H. Brinkley said at the ceremony.

Whichard served as a Supreme Court justice from 1986 to 1998, but his service extends far beyond that.

He's the only person in North Carolina history to serve in both houses of the Legislature and on both of the state's appellate courts.

Whichard retired from the court in 1998, but not from public life. He was dean of the Campbell University law school from 1999 to 2006, and has resumed private law practice.

He's written a biography of James Iredell, a North Carolinian who led the state's Federalists in supporting ratification of the Constitution and was later appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President George Washington.

"The Whichards were a family in which hard work was an expected pathway to greater opportunities," Brinkley said in his remarks to the court. "At age 10, Willis began an eight-year career as a newspaper carrier for the afternoon daily, The Durham Sun, delivering papers on foot and by bicycle to more than 130 homes, earning a dime a week from each customer."

Money earned from that newspaper route, along with a scholarship, helped pay for his years at UNC Chapel Hill.

"He arrived in Chapel Hill in the latter part of a golden age that began under Presidents Edward Kidder Graham and Harry Woodburn Chase in the early years of the century, flowered through years of economic depression and war under the legendary Frank Porter Graham, and reached final maturity under Gordon Gray and his successor, the late William Friday," Brinkley wrote.

The university's impact on Whichard -- as an undergraduate and then as a law student -- stayed with him as he moved on to practice law with Travis Porter and Edward Knox Powe III, whose grandfather's name is on E.K. Powe Elementary School on Ninth Street.

Whichard never forgot what his parents and the university taught him -- the obligation of public service.

"He's answered the call of service to the state of North Carolina and in particular to the city of Durham," Brinkley said. "At any time they've asked something of him, he's been there."

Brinkley said he met Whichard in 1991 when Whichard taught a course at the UNC law school and they quickly became friends.

"He's really been a mentor to me at every stage of my career, and I've been practicing law for 25 years," Brinkley, 47, said. 

In a recent interview, Whichard, 74, was asked how he'd like to be remembered.

"In terms of my Supreme Court service, I would hope to be remembered as someone who was devoted to the law and work of the court, who took the court's tasks very seriously," he said.

Although Whichard has spent most of his life in Durham, he now lives in Chatham County. But his heart remains with the Bull City.

"I think the city and county are doing well," Whichard said. "We draw people from the entire region to the Performing Arts Center, the Durham Bulls games and our very fine restaurants. I see it continuing to be a center for academics, commerce, medicine and a broad array of cultural activities. I think it's a splendid city with a bright future."