(Editor’s Note: The GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal citations, such as this one, are read to the audience at the Annual Alumni Luncheon and then presented as a keepsake to the recipients.)
Distinguished Service Medal Citation
Willis Padgett Whichard ’62
Willis Padgett Whichard has made the law his life’s work. Over four decades, he has amassed a collection of titles as impressive as the rows of banners in the Smith Center: Willis P. Whichard, esquire. State Representative Whichard. State Senator Whichard. Judge Whichard. Justice Whichard. Dr. Whichard. And now, Dean Whichard.
Yes, this one man practiced as an attorney, served in both chambers of the North Carolina legislature, sat on the state Court of Appeals bench for six years, and then moved on to the state Supreme Court, where he served for 12 years. While a sitting justice, he somehow found time to earn his doctorate of systematic jurisprudence from the University of Virginia. That is the top degree possible for a legal scholar—one that very few lawyers and judges possess.
For those of you keeping score—as Bill habitually does at Carolina basketball games—“Dean” is his current title, dean of the Campbell University Law School. He is also an author. He wrote the definitive biography on James Iredell, a North Carolinian who was one of the first justices of the U.S. Supreme Court in the late 18th century.
What propelled Bill Whichard to so many achievements? Hard work? Certainly—Bill has been working for a living since age 10, when he began delivering copies of his hometown newspaper, The Durham Sun.
Hard work is Bill Whichard’s method. His motivation is a deep gratitude toward the University.
Bill says candidly that he is lucky he grew up near a world-class university funded by taxpayers. He couldn’t have afforded to go anywhere else.
When he left Chapel Hill in 1965 with his bachelor’s and his first law degree, he had $16 to his name, but no outstanding loans. Yet Bill felt morally indebted, and he has since returned North Carolina taxpayers’ investment in him dozens of times.
His experiences at Carolina intensified the deep sense of civic duty his parents and grandparents had instilled while he was a boy. Law professors would critique a statute or a court precedent in class. They would predict that their students one day would be the legislators and judges to revise them.
Though the assertion seemed incredible then, Whichard went on to do both, and three of his classmates served in the legislature, as well.
In 1971, as a young state representative, Bill received a handwritten note from the governor urging him to vote for an amendment he knew would hurt UNC. He disregarded the governor and voted no. The amendment failed by a single vote.
The list of Bill’s service to Carolina since then is as lengthy as his professional resume. He was a volunteer Board of Directors leader of the General Alumni Association during the University’s bicentennial. He has served on the Board of Visitors and on the boards of advisors of the schools of Public Health and Social Work, and he is a charter member of the North Caroliniana society. He recently chaired the centennial celebration of the Order of the Golden Fleece, into which he was inducted as an undergraduate.
Bill Whichard shoulders his responsibilities without complaint and bears his accolades humbly, a true North Carolina gentleman. He strives to live what he calls a well-ordered life, one in which his profession and public service are but two of his great joys.
And though he often made an intense jurist and legislator, he has another side. His vocal impersonation of John F. Kennedy, for instance, is as hilarious as it is startlingly accurate.
He helped organize a summer hiking trip in the Alps recently for dozens of his friends, and he is looking forward to another such trip, to southwestern England, this year.
For many years, Bill told people he had an irrational love affair with Carolina. But now, as he looks back over his life, this love seems as logical as one of his judicial opinions.