This story was originally published in the February 2018 edition of North Carolina Lawyer magazine.
The North Carolina Bar Foundation (NCBF) has received its largest gift ever as the result of planned gifts totaling nearly $1 million from the late Charles D. Dixon.
The funds have been designated to the NCBF Endowment’s Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) Fund, which Dixon helped launch in 2007 with a lead gift of $100,000. The Hickory attorney, who practiced for more than 60 years with Patrick, Harper & Dixon, died in 2016.
“Mr. Dixon was a visionary,” said Caryn McNeill, president of the NCBF and the North Carolina Bar Association. “His gift invites all our members to see our Foundation as he saw it — as a powerful philanthropic partner that supports the causes we lawyers and legal professionals are most passionate about.”
The Foundation’s largest gift since its establishment in 1960 was formally announced at the LANC headquarters in Raleigh on Jan. 24 — 10 years to the date that the Charles D. Dixon Justice Fund was dedicated.
Proceeds from the endowed gift will underwrite a dedicated position in LANC’s Morganton office, which serves the Hickory area.
“Endowing a position in Morganton in his name would be the most appropriate way to honor Mr. Dixon,” said George Hausen, executive director of LANC. “That way, there will be hundreds of poor people who will be given legal representation in ways they otherwise would not have.
“The gift really has an impact on the work that we do. And by using these funds for a specific purpose in the office that serves Mr. Dixon’s community, his gift will continue to give back to his community.”
Hausen fondly remembers meeting Dixon for the first time when the LANC Fund was established.
“He was a terrific lawyer,” Hausen said, “and an enormous catalyst for all of the things that have happened since we started this endowment. It has really been extraordinary. The Foundation has been very generous with us.
“We have the Eviction Diversion Project in Durham in partnership with Duke Law School, and the (NCBF) Endowment pays for a position there. And it pays for our Martin Luther King Internships. All of these programs give lawyers an opportunity to start careers with Legal Aid and get exposed to the profession in a way that entails pro bono and giving back to the community and making a difference.”
The new Charles D. Dixon Fellowship, Hausen added, will mirror an existing fellowship that honors Judge Samuel J. Ervin III, the late Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge whose son presently serves on the N.C. Supreme Court and whose father was U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin. This is most appropriate, given that Dixon interacted with all three generations of Ervin family lawyers during his career.
“This will also be a one-year fellowship for someone who is beginning their legal career,” Hausen said. “We interview third-year law students in the first part of their third year, and get some really talented students this way. Now we will have two of these fellowships in Morganton, and invariably we end up hiring everyone who comes through there.”
The Morganton office of LANC serves Alexander, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, McDowell, Mitchell, Watauga and Yancey counties in northwest North Carolina.
Born on Dec. 12, 1926, in York County, S.C., Dixon began his law practice in 1952 as an associate at what was then known as Patrick & Harper. He was named partner of Patrick, Harper & Dixon in 1957 and, after decades of service as managing partner, became of counsel with the firm in 2003.
A 1943 graduate of Belmont High School, Dixon proceeded to North Carolina State University (then College) where he attended classes for two years. He joined the U.S. Army in 1945 and attended Japanese language school at Yale University, where he was trained as a counterintelligence investigator.
Upon his honorable discharge in 1947, he earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. He attended Harvard Law School as a National Scholarship Student, earning his law degree in 1952.
Dixon, who was inducted into the NCBA General Practice Hall of Fame in 2003, was the quintessential lifelong learner. Well into his 80s he was perfecting his Spanish language skills in order to communicate better when his travels and mission work took him to places such as Mexico, Guatemala and Spain. He also participated in mission trips to Cuba, where decades earlier he had represented a company whose operations in Cuba were nationalized by the Castro regime.
A past president of the Catawba County Bar Association and the 25th Judicial District Bar, Dixon was married to the former Mary Louise Edgerton and the former Dorothy Lindsay, by both of whom he was predeceased, and is survived by four children, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
The LANC Fund was initiated during the 2006-07 bar year under the leadership of NCBA President Clark Smith, who recognized Dixon for his generosity at the 2007 Annual Meeting in Asheville.
Over the following year, in conjunction with President Janet Ward Black’s 4ALL Campaign, the fund continued to grow. Past-President Norfleet Pruden was especially effective in leading the solicitation of law firm gifts, which ultimately accounted for nearly one-third of the LANC Fund’s initial $1 million goal.
The LANC Fund of the NCBF Endowment was activated in 2010 when two grants totaling nearly $28,000 were awarded to assist LANC staff lawyers with repayment of law school loans. Today the value of the LANC Fund is approaching $2.5 million, from which grants totaling nearly $300,000 have been awarded.
The primary beneficiaries of LANC Fund grants have been participants in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Summer Internship program and staff attorneys who receive financial assistance through the Student Loan Repayment Assistance Project.
Dixon signaled his intentions to provide additional support to the LANC Fund in 2011 through the designation of a $100,000 IRA, thereby becoming a member of the NCBF’s Platt D. Walker Society. Named for the NCBA’s founding president, the Platt D. Walker Society recognizes legal professionals who have included the NCBF in their personal estate plans.
The NCBF subsequently became the beneficiary of a 25 percent residual from the Estate of Charles D. Dixon, which also provided generous gifts to Lenoir-Rhyne University, the Hickory Museum of Art and the Catawba Science Center.