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Monday, April 15, 2024

Attorney Wanda Copley was presented with the John B. McMillan Distinguished Service Award on April 1, 2024, at the New Hanover County Historic Courthouse in Wilmington, North Carolina. North Carolina State Bar President A. Todd Brown and Judge Allen Cobb presented the award.

Ms. Copley attended the University of South Carolina for her undergraduate degree, and the University of Memphis School of Law. She began her career in public service in 1984 as an assistant county attorney in New Hanover County. In 1992, she became the first female county attorney in North Carolina. She served in the role until her retirement in July 2023. After 39 years of service, Ms. Copley is the longest-serving county attorney in North Carolina.

Ms. Copley provided dedicated, diligent, excellent professional service and servant leadership, which has enhanced the lives of the citizens of New Hanover County. During her tenure, Ms. Copley provided guidance and gave advice to many different boards of commissioners. She provided counsel to the ABC Board and Airport Authority. Ms. Copley led New Hanover County in being at the forefront of many issues in public health, safety, education, cultural arts, and the environment. She provided oversight on numerous projects and initiatives, which included the purchase of Airlie Gardens to preserve it as a historical garden, building a new jail, construction of a judicial annex, and the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center.

During the early days of AIDS, Ms. Copley advised the Health Department, which became one of the first to provide direct treatment before established drugs and protocols were known. She led the county's opioid litigation, resulting in the county receiving more than $18 million in opioid settlement funds. Additionally, she advised the county through major hurricanes and other crises in the community, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms. Copley is a pioneer who paved the way for aspiring women to become county and governmental attorneys. Her presence promoted diversity in the legal profession, and she emerged as a respected role model. Ms. Copley served as a mentor to young female attorneys beginning their careers. Over her years of service, she earned a sterling reputation, and is known for her impeccable character and integrity. The confident and trusting embrace she received from the many different commissioners she served is the best evidence of her enduring professionalism. She is a beloved public servant, and her work will have a lasting impact on our state.

Ms. Copley has also been active in her community. In 2003, she served as president of the North Carolina Azalea Festival. She received the YWCA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014. And as a tribute to her leadership skills and service, Governor Roy Cooper awarded her the Order of the Long Leaf Pine in June 2023. She is a most deserving recipient of the John B. McMillan Distinguished Service Award.

Filed Under: General News

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