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(This article appeared in Journal 23,2, June 2018)

Success is not just about what you accomplish in your life; it is about what you inspire others to do.


I have a small mood flipchart on my desk. Each day I use the flipchart to alert (warn) my coworkers of my current mood—from grumpy to giddy to mischievous. Today my flipchart relays that I am “inspired.” The source of my inspiration? My recent attendance at the quarterly meeting of the State Bar’s Distinguished Service Award (DSA) Committee.

I became involved with the DSA Committee in January 2016 when I took on the role of staff liaison. The committee, however, has been around since 2007. In January 2007, then State Bar Vice President John McMillan presented an idea to the State Bar Issues Committee: Implement a program whereby the State Bar recognizes the positive achievements of lawyers for their profession, community, and state. Mr. McMillan envisioned a lawyer recognition program that would not only focus upon those lawyers with the biggest reputations, but also be for those lawyers who serve with great distinction but without much recognition.

In October 2007 the Issues Committee asked incoming Bar President Hank Hankins to appoint a special committee of the State Bar Council to refine the concept of a State Bar lawyer recognition program. As the criteria for the award began to take shape, the committee decided that award recipients should have a record of service demonstrating commitment to the aspirational goals described in the Preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct. Carmen H. Bannon, State Bar deputy counsel, served as staff liaison and assisted the committee with the drafting of the following criteria for evaluating nominees:

• Cultivating knowledge of the law beyond its use for clients, employing that knowledge in reform of the law, and working to strengthen legal education.

• Furthering the public’s understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system.

• Devoting professional time and resources and providing civic leadership to ensure equal access to our system of justice for all those who, because of economic or social barriers, cannot afford or secure adequate legal counsel.

• Aiding the legal profession by helping the Bar regulate itself in the public interest and by seeking to improve the administration of justice and the quality of services rendered by the legal profession.

• Providing professional services at no fee or a reduced fee to persons of limited means or to public service or charitable groups or organizations, by service in activities for improving the law, society, the legal system, or the legal profession, and providing financial support for organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means.

• Treating opposing counsel with courtesy and respect; encouraging and counseling peers by providing advice and mentoring; and fostering civility among members of the Bar.

• Promoting diversity and diverse participation within the legal profession.

The Distinguished Service Award program was approved by the State Bar Council and the first meeting of the Distinguished Service Award Committee took place on April 23, 2008. The award was announced in the Journal in the Winter 2008 edition, along with a request for nominations. The first two nominees approved by the committee were Wade Barber and Kenneth Youngblood in January 2009.

In 2010 the award program was named the John B. McMillan Distinguished Service Award in honor of the lawyer who spearheaded the creation of the award and who has devoted much of his time and energy to improving the legal profession in North Carolina.

Since its inception, over 80 lawyers have received the John B. McMillan Distinguished Service Award. I have had the privilege of attending several award presentations over the past two years. Often these presentations take place at a regularly scheduled local bar function, but other arrangements are sometimes made. Awards have been presented at courthouses, clubhouses, Inns of Court, and even private homes. Although the venues varied, each award presentation I attended left me moved and inspired. (I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats.)

Bar officers who have presented these awards have reported similar emotions. As stated by Past President Mark Merritt:

The sentiment that I would express is what an honor it has been for me to be part of giving these awards. It has provided me the opportunity to learn more about the outstanding contributions lawyers around the state have made to the profession and their communities. The recipients have a commitment to the profession and their communities that is inspiring, and it reminds each of us how we can up our game and do more. I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to meet lawyers from around the state when these awards have been given at district bar meetings. On each occasion, the real admiration and affection that lawyers have for our award recipients has been palpable, heartfelt, and meaningful. It shows us at our best when we can acknowledge what is good about our profession by recognizing people who have truly done good things. Our award recipients are doers who have been engaged in the life of the law and their communities, and who build bridges and not barriers. Giving out these awards is one of the best parts of the job.

Current president John Silverstein reports similar warm and fuzzy feelings:

It is such a pleasure to travel to a district where everyone is excited that a member of their bar, who enjoys universal respect and admiration, is going to receive some well-deserved attention. It is also a real privilege to observe the reactions of the recipients of the John B. McMillan Distinguished Service Award. It clearly means a great deal to them to not only receive the award, but also to be honored in front of their families, friends, and colleagues.

The contributions and accomplishments of the past recipients of the Distinguished Service Award are beyond impressive. Many have served in the military, in state and local government, and also in the judiciary. They have led integration and legal reform movements, founded pro bono and public education programs, established bar programs and student loan forgiveness programs. They have aided the legal profession in other countries, founded firm diversity committees, and established Hispanic outreach task forces. They have authored legal treatises, founded high school mock trial programs, and have led our Supreme Court to become the nation’s first state appellate court to accept all documents by electronic filing.

As the staff liaison to the DSA Committee, I receive and review the nomination packets. Many of these packets include personal testimonials as to the nominee’s character, conduct, and qualifications for the award. These testimonies often reveal, arguably, the most valuable contributions these lawyers have made to our profession. Here are some examples of the praise bestowed upon these lawyers:

 “No man, other than perhaps my father, has had as profound an impact on the direction of my life than [this lawyer]. He taught me, by example, how to be a good citizen-servant, leader, husband, and person. [This lawyer] is the reason I wanted to be and ultimately became a lawyer.”

“[This lawyer] is known as being extraordinarily knowledgeable in all aspects of the district court. More importantly, she is also known as a true counselor for those in need, a strong voice for the weak and oppressed, and a great source of principled light for those in need of it.”

“I learned from [this lawyer] many years ago the duty of pro bono work, and the value it generates—not only to the client, but to the lawyer and the community as well.”

“Small towns all over North Carolina have been led by lawyers for hundreds of years. They have served on school boards, hospital boards, and in every leadership position. Unfortunately, lawyers of [this lawyer’s] caliber are not often choosing to come to rural North Carolina...But for those who do choose to come, [this lawyer] has and will continue to serve as the example of the kind of lawyer and person all of us should strive to be.”

“As a new attorney, in a new town, I was very intimidated and unsure of myself. In this sea of uncertainty was this white-haired, smiling face—a beacon; a man with an incredible reputation, a vast knowledge of the law, and a great attitude—and he welcomed me like no other.”

 “As a solo practitioner, I had many issues that needed quick and simple resolutions. [This lawyer] has been supportive and encouraging...His willingness to stop whatever he is doing to address a particular issue a colleague has raised has become one of his trademarks.”

 “I have tried scores of cases with [this lawyer] as opposing counsel. He was always a formidable adversary and bona fide ally. Without exception, he modeled civility, courtesy, and respect for all.”

 “Those who know the nominee find him wise, courageous, honorable, and most of all dedicated to making the world a better place through unwavering service and kindness.”

“[This lawyer] leads the way for us all. She goes above and beyond the call of duty by seizing opportunities to not only improve the administration of justice, but also to promote the best interest of the citizens of this community.”

“If I were tasked with the duty of coming up with one word that defines [this lawyer], that word would be ‘distinguished.’ Merriam-Webster defines distinguished as ‘marked by eminence, distinction, or excellence.’ Never have these words rang more true than when speaking of [this lawyer].”

Relaying these types of testimonials to the members of the DSA Committee, I cannot help but feel humbled and inspired. I believe that is exactly what the John B. McMillan Distinguished Service Award program is meant to do—recognize the achievements of North Carolina’s greatest lawyers, by various definitions, and inspire all North Carolina lawyers to commit to the aspirational goals described in the Preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct.

“A lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system, and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.” NC Rules of Prof'l Conduct preamble.

Who has inspired you to be a better representative of clients, officer of the court, and public citizen? Members of the Bar are encouraged to nominate colleagues who have demonstrated outstanding service to the profession. As noted by Mr. McMillan, the award is meant not only for those lawyers with the biggest reputations, but also for those lawyers who serve with great distinction but without much recognition.

As aptly stated by one nominator, “Honorable and steadfast service, when given freely, we often take for granted. At some point if God be willing, we ought to pause and say, ‘Thank you.’” The John B. McMillan Distinguished Service Award is a chance for the North Carolina State Bar to say “thank you” to lawyers who have made positive contributions to the legal profession. The nomination form is available at

Past recipients of the John B. McMillan Distinguished Service Award:


Charles M. Davis – Louisburg

Judge Paul L. Jones – Kinston

M. Keith Kapp – Raleigh

Judge Gary Lynn Locklear – Pembroke

Joseph G. Maddrey – Eden

Judge Howard Manning Jr. – Raleigh

Rudolph G. Singleton – Fayetteville

Gary Tash – Winston-Salem

Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson – Fayetteville

Melvin F. Wright – Raleigh/Winston-Salem


Robert C. Cone – Greensboro

Leo Daughtry – Smithfield

Howard L. Gum – Asheville

William O. King – Durham

Sarah Parker – Raleigh

Christie Speir Cameron Roeder – Raleigh

Alex Warlick Jr. – Jacksonville

Willis P. Whichard – Chapel Hill

Cecil L. Whitley – Salisbury


Charles E. Burgin – Marion

Sidney S. Eagles Jr. – Raleigh 

James E. Ferguson II – Charlotte

Theodore O. Fillette – Charlotte

Allan B. Head – Cary

Lillian B. Jordan – Randleman 

Richard M. Lewis Jr. – Fayetteville

A. Elizabeth Keever – Fayetteville

Samuel O. Southern – Raleigh 


John Quincy Beard – Raleigh

R. Lee Farmer – Yanceyville

K. Edward Greene – Chapel Hill

Leonard T. Jernigan Jr. – Raleigh

James M. Long – Yanceyville

James B. Maxwell – Durham

Joseph B. Roberts III – Gastonia

Sally H. Scherer – Raleigh

Horace E. Stacy – Lumberton

Sharon A. Thompson – Durham

M. Gordon Widenhouse – Chapel Hill


Jules Banzet – Warrenton

Roy W. Davis Jr. – Asheville

Wright T. Dixon Jr. – Raleigh

Tommy W. Jarrett – Goldsboro

James “Jimbo” S. Perry – Kinston

Roger W. Smith Jr. – Raleigh

Wade M. Smith – Raleigh

Samuel S. Woodley Jr. – Rocky Mount


J. Allen Adams – Raleigh

H. Grady Barnhill Jr. – Winston-Salem

Rhoda B. Billings – Lewisville

Daniel T. Blue Jr. – Raleigh

Kenneth S. Broun – Chapel Hill

William K. Davis – Winston- Salem

L.P. “Tony” Hornthal Jr. – Elizabeth City

Richard S. Jones Jr. – Franklin

Maria M. Lynch – Raleigh

Harry C. Martin – Asheville

Norwood Robinson – Winston-Salem

James T. Williams Jr. – Greensboro


Robert L. McMillan Jr. – Raleigh

George Rountree – Wilmington

Richard Tuggle – Greensboro


Charles Becton – Durham

Bruce T. Cunningham Jr. – Southern Pines

Peter S. Gilchrist III – Charlotte

James E. Holshouser Jr. – Pinehurst

Edwin Lynn Johnson – Fayetteville

William D. Kenerly – Salisbury

John B. McMillan – Raleigh

Robert W. Simmons – Charlotte

John Drew Warlick Jr. – Jacksonville


Wade Barber – Pittsboro

Janet Ward Black – Greensboro

James M. Deal Jr. – Boone

William A. Johnson – Lillington

Annie Brown Kennedy – Winston-Salem

Jim M. Kimzey – Brevard

Luke Largess – Charlotte

Jim F. Morgan – High Point

Thomas C. Morphis Sr. – Hickory

Carlyn G. Poole – Raleigh

Gerald F. White – Elizabeth City

Kenneth R. Youngblood – Hendersonville 

Suzanne Lever is assistant ethics counsel for the North Carolina State Bar.

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