J. DICKSON PHILLIPS JR. ’ 48 (JD) 1922–2017
Law Dean, Appeals Judge
Known for ‘Doing What Is Right’
The legal journey of J. Dickson Phillips Jr. (’ 48 JD) began when Terry
Sanford ’ 39 (’ 46 LLB) took him for a ride.
In 1945, the future UNC School of Law
dean and U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
judge was talking to friends in Laurinburg
when Sanford, a future governor and U.S.
senator, drove in to gas up for the drive to
Chapel Hill. Sanford was headed to Carolina to register for law school, and he asked
Phillips, whom he had known since grade
school, to join him for the ride. Before the
day was over, Phillips and Sanford had both
signed up for law school.
“I suppose I’ve done right many things
that way,” Phillips once told a newspaper
reporter. “I’m mightily afflicted with the
awareness of fortuity and chance in life.”
Phillips, a jurist noted for his ability to
boil down a complex issue into a simple
statement, died Aug. 27. He was 94.
After practicing law with Sanford in Laurinburg and Fayetteville and a short stint as
assistant director of UNC’s Institute of Government, Phillips joined UNC’s law faculty
in 1960 and became dean in 1964, serving
until 1974. He then returned to the faculty.
By the fall of his second year as dean,
total law school enrollment had more than
doubled. The faculty also nearly doubled in
size during his deanship. Phillips hired the
law school’s first African-American visiting
faculty member and its first full-time African-American faculty member. There was
only one African-American student at the
law school when Phillips became dean; by
1973, there were 23, along with two Native
Americans and one Latino. There were 10
female students enrolled in his first year; that
number had reached 121 by the time he left.
of the Institute of Outdoor Drama at UNC for 25
years. In the late 1940s, he worked with Carolina
Playmakers in management and promotions.
He was a playwright, actor, director and theater
producer, and he helped launch more than 30
historical dramas in 26 states. Among his honors,
he received the Amoco Award from the American
College Theater Festival, was inducted as a Fellow
of the College of Fellows of the American Theater
and was awarded the state’s Order of the Long
Leaf Pine. An Eagle Scout, he was in the Army
During the 1969 cafeteria workers strike
at UNC, Phillips chaired a committee to
decide what to do and establish guidelines
for addressing racial tensions on campus.
At the state level, Phillips served on the
N.C. Courts Commission that reorganized
the state judicial system in 1963. In 1976,
he chaired the state ethics commission, reviewing financial interests of state employees in the executive branch and establishing
rules for dealing with conflicts of interest.
Phillips took a seat on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1978. He assumed
senior status in 1994 and continued to sit
with the court through 1999.
Phillips authored opinions on issues such
as legislative redistricting and the Voting
Rights Act, civil rights, sex discrimination, the First Amendment, and criminal
and civil procedure. He was described as a
staunch defender of the Bill of Rights.
Recent North Carolina court cases
about racial gerrymandering might have reminded some of Phillips’ sharp criticism in
1983 of racist politics in North Carolina. In
a decision for the appeals court, he blasted
the creation of seven N.C. legislative election districts based on racial discrimination
and racial prejudice against black citizens.
“What motivates him is doing what is
right,” said Gerry Hancock ’ 65, who served
on the state ethics commission with Phillips.
“Dick served as the conscience of the law
school and maintained the University as a
Phillips served in the Army in WWII,
fighting as a paratrooper in the Battle of the
Bulge, and was among the first U.S. troops
to land on German soil. He received the
Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
An Alumni Distinguished Professor,
Phillips received UNC’s Thomas Jefferson
Award, given to exemplary faculty members, in 1977 and the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1993. In 2004, the law school
presented him its Lifetime Achievement
Award, and in 2013, he received the GAA’s
Faculty Service Award. While at UNC, he
belonged to Golden Fleece and Order of the
Coif and was associate editor of Law Review.
Phillips often cited UNC as the source
for everything he had accomplished, and
he was particularly proud of being among
the members of the “Class of 1948 Study
Group,” which included William Friday
’ 48 (LLB), who would go on to become the
UNC System president; William Aycock
’ 37 (MA, ’ 48 JD) who taught law and served
as UNC chancellor during the tumultuous
1960s; and John Jordan Jr. ’ 42 (’ 48 LLBJD),
a future state senator, and William Dees Jr.
’ 41 (’ 48 JD), both of whom served on the
UNC System Board of Governors, each as
— Don Evans ’ 80
in WWII, earning two Bronze Stars and France’s
Legion of Honor. At UNC, he belonged to The Daily
Tar Heel staff. ◆ Julia “Vivian” Rhyne White (’ 48),
89, of Cherryville; Nov. 30, 2016. White worked as
supervisor of Child Protective Services for Lincoln
County Social Services.
1949 obituaries Fred L. Adair (’ 49
BSCOM; ’ 67, ’ 68 PhD), 93, of Alexandria, Va.;
May 18, 2017. Adair retired after 21 years as a
professor in the College of William & Mary School of
Education, where he founded the Family Counseling
Center. After retiring, he continued to teach as an
adjunct professor at Old Dominion University and
lead anger-management sessions at the Yorktown
Corrections Department. Previously, he was an
administrator at Franklin & Marshall College. He was
in the Marine Corps in WWII. At UNC, he belonged
to Glee Club. ◆ Calvin B. Baldwin Jr. (’ 49 BA),
91, of Garrett Park, Md.; June 28, 2017. Baldwin
retired as associate director for administration for