05/01/11 — Retired Goldsboro attorney honored by heritage society

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Retired Goldsboro attorney honored by heritage society

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on May 1, 2011 1:50 AM

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Goldsboro lawyer Lindsay Warren addresses a gathering of the North Carolinian Society on Friday in Chapel Hill where he was the recipient of the society's annual award.

CHAPEL HILL -- Noted Goldsboro lawyer and former state Sen. Lindsay Warren was named the annual recipient of the North Carolinian Society Award on Friday, joining an elite group that includes William C. Friday, Sen. Sam Ervin, Charles Kuralt, Hugh Morton, Reynolds Price and Paul Green.

The society, founded in 1975, is dedicated to the promotion of increased knowledge and appreciation of North Carolina's heritage. Its membership is limited to about 200, but on Friday night at the George Watts Hill Alumni Center it seemed that there were that many people in attendance simply from Goldsboro. A large contingent of Warren's colleagues and friends came to see him honored.

"I know that a number of my friends have traveled a great distance to be here," Warren said with self-depreciating humor before delivering a speech on his work in the restructuring of the state legal system and the observation of the state's 400th anniversary, "and I hope that what I have to say won't make them sorry that they came."

The society is focused on service to North Carolina's history and culture. While in the Legislature, Warren served as chairman of a commission that revamped the state's legal system. With some changes, it is the system that is in effect today. And as a devotee of North Carolina history, he was asked by then-Gov. Jim Hunt to head the group that oversaw the observance of the state's 400th anniversary in the mid-1980s.

Warren, 86, is retired from the firm of Warren, Kerr, Walston, Taylor and Smith. A native of Washington, N.C., he is a fourth-generation lawyer who had practiced law in Goldsboro since the early 1950s, soon after he graduated from law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His undergraduate career at UNC was interrupted by service in World War II but he returned to Chapel Hill to finish his education. His father, Lindsay Carter Warren, was a United States congressman who was chosen by President Franklin Roosevelt to be Controller General of the U.S., a federal department now known as the General Accounting Office.

Warren said he was "overwhelmed" when he was notified that he had been chosen for the award. He noted the distinguished list of winners "in various and sundry fields who have contributed so much to our great state" and said that he was humbled to be deemed worthy of the recognition.

Willis P. Whichard, president of the society, called Warren "a great North Carolinian and a friend."

Warren, a soft-spoken man with a wry sense of humor, was honored by lifelong friend Ford S. Worthy Jr. and Judge J. Dickson Phillips Jr., a former member of the U.S. Court of Appeals, who both addressed the group.

His three daughters, Adrienne Northington, Emily McNair and Grace Johnson, also spoke about their father, noting that to them he was not the respected lawmaker but "simply our dad, who loves us and we love him."

All three said that upon reading the classic "To Kill A Mockingbird," they immediately recognized their father in the character of Atticus Finch, the decent, fair-minded small-town lawyer.

Ford, who attended school with Warren in Washington from the first through 11th grades and was later his roommate at Chapel Hill, is retired from the real estate business in Raleigh. He recalled several events from their boyhood days that he said showed that Warren was destined for leadership. While most of the second-grade class played the part of cabbages in a production of "Peter Rabbit," Warren was given the lead role, Ford said. And in the eighth grade, when boys were assigned to patrol the street to make it safe for younger students, Warren was made captain of the guard and given a red badge while everyone else had a white one, he noted.

"I should have known from that red badge that he was going to be a leader," Ford said, adding that the experience should have prepared Warren for his ability to garner votes in the state Senate.

He also recalled that Warren was chosen to be the center on the high school football team when he was a sophomore, because "Lindsay not only knew what he was supposed to do," but he knew what the star lineman next to him was supposed to do. Warren's job was to remind the big guy who to hit, Ford said.

"Again, that was good preparation for the rough and tumble of state politics," he said.

Ford also noted Warren's natural curiosity and deep love of learning. He said that "as successful as (Warren) has been as a lawyer, his real calling may have been that of historian."

He told another story about a trip the men made to Canada. They drove past a barrier they shouldn't have and soon found themselves explaining their predicament to a Royal Mounted Police officer. After getting over his disappointment at not seeing a Mountie on horseback, Warren convinced the officer to not give the pair a ticket because he said a study he had read showed that traffic offenders were less likely to be repeat offenders if they were given a warning ticket first. They got the warning ticket, Ford said, and Warren promised to mail a copy of the study to the officer.

Judge Phillips is a former dean of the UNC Law School and was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals by President Jimmy Carter.

Phillips said Warren is part of what broadcaster and author Tom Brokaw labeled "the greatest generation."

"Lindsay truly exemplifies those traits," Phillips said, adding that Warren's "quiet dignity," has earned him the respect of people in positions of power across the state. He pointed to Warren's leadership of the group that overhauled the state's legal system as a "profound" step forward for North Carolina. He said the success of the 400th anniversary of the landing of the first colonists in North Carolina was due to Warren's "great organizational skills and determination."

Warren's daughters added a more personal touch to the evening, counting down "the Top Ten Things We Have Learned From Lindsay Warren." Among the list was to appreciate family and friends, history and music, the sea, travel, the University of North Carolina, to maintain a sense of duty and integrity and "to be a yellow-dog Democrat."