NCAJ Loses Last Living Founder With Passing Of Charles Blanchard

March 10, 2021   |   Amber Nimocks

Charles Blanchard, the last living founder of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice, died Wednesday, leaving a legacy of kindness that equaled his commitment to justice and resonates throughout North Carolina and beyond.

“It was the honor of a lifetime to be law partners with him,” said Philip Miller, who practiced with Blanchard for 26 years. “But his friendship was even more important. He loved this organization more than anything and devoted much of his life to it.  We would not be the strong, influential organization we are today without his guidance and leadership.”

Blanchard was among the small group of plaintiffs’ lawyers who joined forces in 1962 to form the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers as an affiliate of what was then the National Association of Claimaints and Compensation Attorneys. That group included Eugene Phillips, James Clontz, William Thorp and Allen Bailey, all of whom preceded Blanchard in death. Their opposition to no-fault insurance and a desire to provide continuing education for young trial attorneys united them.

Blanchard served as NCATL president from 1970 to 1972, later describing it as “an important legal vehicle in helping younger lawyers become a vital part of a movement that would swing open courthouse doors across the state to the distraught and downtrodden.”

NCAJ President-elect John McCabe described Blanchard as a giant.

“We are so indebted to him for the path he paved for North Carolina trial lawyers and for NCATL/NCAJ,” McCabe said. “He was brilliant and forward-thinking, but at the same time, humble, witty, and endearing.”

A Gentle Man In a Rough-and-Tumble World

NCAJ Past President Joe Cheshire had known Blanchard since he was a boy when Blanchard was friends with Cheshire’s father. Cheshire began his legal career as Blanchard’s clerk, and said he was a model of courtesy and empathy

“He gave me permission to be the way I am,” Cheshire said. “He was a gentle man in an often rough-and-tumble world. I never saw him get angry or strike at anybody. … As my dad used to say, ‘The only thing wrong with Charlie was he went to Duke.’ ’’

But Blanchard knew his way around a courtroom, as Cheshire recounts in a story from his days as Blanchard’s clerk in the early 1970s. He cultivated an image as a “stumblebum,” Cheshire said, someone who would walk into doors, feigning clumsiness.

“He loved playing that part,” he said. “In court, he would play that part.”

On one occasion when Cheshire accompanied Blanchard to trial, he noticed throughout the day that Blanchard kept scooting his large briefcase into the space between the plaintiff’s desk and the defense desk. Cheshire worried because he knew it was going to prove a hazard. During a recess, Cheshire moved the briefcase out of Blanchard’s way.

“He leaned over at me and said, ‘Where’s my briefcase?’ ”

Cheshire told him he had moved it out of concern for Blanchard’s safety.

“He said to me, ‘The whole point is for me to fall over the briefcase.’ ”

Blanchard put it back. Shortly thereafter, he rose for an objection and toppled over the briefcase.

“And all the jury jumped up and gasped and looked to make sure he was OK, and he got up and brushed himself off and, from that moment, he was going to win the case because the jury just loved him,” Cheshire said. “That’s kind of the way we tried cases back then, too. It’s a little different today, but that’s Charlie.”

Blanchard offered Cheshire a position in his firm out of law school, working as a civil practitioner. Cheshire, determined to become a criminal defense lawyer, turned him down.

Deep Community Roots

A graduate of Duke University and Duke University Law School, Blanchard served as president of the Wake County Bar Association, as governor of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America for two terms and as a member of the Duke University Law School Council.

He was a lecturer at the North Carolina Conference on Superior Court Judges, the UNC Medical School, the Duke University School of Engineering, and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. Blanchard served the North Carolina Bar Association as a member of its Litigation Section and as the founding chair of the Young Lawyers Division, prompting the NCBA to present an annual award to young lawyers in his name.

In 2018, Campbell Law School named its Community Clinic in his honor, in recognition of his donations to the clinic and his contributions to the community.

Campbell Law School Dean Rich Leonard said at the clinic’s dedication ceremony that “if you dig deep enough, almost every important legal initiative in this community traces back to Charlie Blanchard.”

He served as president of the International Society of Barristers and the Braxton Craven Inn of Court, sponsored by Duke University School of Law, and he was a fellow in the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. He received NCAJ’s Chief Justice Walker Clark Award, the Wake County Bar Association’s Joseph Branch Professionalism Award and the Southern Trial Lawyers Association War Horse Award, given to Lawyers who are not only great courtroom advocates, but who give of their time, effort, energy and money, lawyers who are “true characters of their time.”

‘The Full Passing of the Torch’

Blanchard was a past president of the North Carolina Episcopal Foundation and twice served as senior warden of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. His community services included work with Raleigh Rescue Mission, Residential Support Services and St. Augustine’s College. In 2015, the Arc of Wake County awarded him the Lifetime Achievement Award for his work for those with disabilities.

Blanchard is preceded in death by his first wife of 52 years, Bernard Berkeley Blanchard, and their eldest daughter, Lelia Bernard Blanchard. He is survived by his daughter Anna Neal Blanchard, and his second wife, Archie Blanchard.

“With his passing — that whole era of giant men who created the plaintiffs’ bar and helped foster the criminal bar and workmans’ compensation bar and other portions of the bar — they left with Charlie this morning,” Cheshire said. “This moment in time is a very important moment in time because it is the full passing of the torch.”