Health Law Presents Distinguished Service Award to Stukes

Thomas S. Stukes of Womble Bond Dickinson in Greensboro received the Health Law Distinguished Service Award from the NCBA’s Health Law Section on Friday, April 26, at the N.C. Bar Center. The award was presented in conjunction with the section’s annual meeting and CLE.

Stukes was recognized for helping to form and for representing some of the largest health care systems in the state as well as smaller community hospitals and other health care providers. He was also noted for his CLE presentations and mentoring other health care attorneys throughout his career.

Longtime colleague Christy Gudaitis, Deputy General Counsel for Health Affairs for Duke University, presented the award. Stukes is the 14th recipient of the award, which was established in 1993.

Tom, a white man with grey hair and brown circular glasses, wears a blue shirt, a dark blue sweater, and khaki pants. He stands with the North Carolina flag behind him. Christy, a white woman with grey hair, stands to his right and wears a black and white dress, black jacket, and tan shoes.

Tom Stukes accepts award as presenter Christy Gudaitis looks on.

“I was just very honored to receive the award,” Stukes said. “In August I will have been practicing for 50 years, so this is very nice and very much appreciated, especially coming from the people who awarded it, because I have worked with those people throughout my career.”

Stukes graduated with honors from both the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies, and UNC School of Law, where he served as editor-in-chief of the North Carolina Law Review. He practiced with Smith Moore Smith Schell & Hunter in Greensboro through its merger with Helms Mulliss & Johnston of Charlotte into Smith Helms Mulliss & Moore in 1986 and remained with Smith Moore after the firm split in 2002.

“I changed firms three times without moving my desk,” Stukes laughs. He joined Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in 2003 and remains a partner in the firm, which became Womble Bond Dickinson in 2017. He grew up in Charlotte but has always practiced in Greensboro.

“When I came out of law school the Triad region was the legal epicenter of the state,” Stukes said, “because it had numerous private and publicly held companies in manufacturing, textiles, furniture, and tobacco as well as financial institutions, such as Wachovia Bank. The two largest firms in the state were in Greensboro and Winston-Salem. Of course, times have changed, but in terms of my health care practice, it has been convenient to be in the middle of the state.”

Stukes has been a member of the NCBA throughout his career and a member of the Health Law Section since its inception in 1984.

“The Section’s CLE has been very beneficial because it’s a very dynamic area of law. When the Federal Register is published or Congress or the General Assembly convenes, some area of health care law is changed. The Health Law Section has had comprehensive and timely CLE programs over the years.

“While we all may represent health care clients that compete with each other, I think we’ve had a strong bar and a collegial bar. The section meetings provide the opportunity to create a lot of collegiality, and I think that’s been one of the hallmarks of our section.”

Stukes has seen the current health care system in North Carolina evolve from a front row seat, although that was not his plan when he began practicing law.

“When I started practicing in 1974, I was involved in real estate and real estate financing transactions. I was working on a bond issue for Hamlet Hospital, then a small hospital in Richmond County, and the due diligence on the hospital was much more interesting than reviewing the bond documents.”

At that time, Stukes added, there really wasn’t a separate specialty in health care law.

“There were two areas that arose about that time in the late ’70s and early ’80s. One was environmental law, and the other was health care law. So I just decided to take a leap and drop my real estate and real estate financing practice and try to develop a health care practice because it was really pretty intriguing.

”I’m a transactional and corporate lawyer, but because the industry is so highly regulated, I have done a great deal of regulatory compliance work. I have also been fortunate in my health care practice to work with outstanding teams in other specialties.”

Previous recipients of the Health Law Section’s Distinguished Service Award are:

1993 – Roddey M. Ligon Jr.
1995 – John Anderson Jr.
1996 – Wendell H. Ott
2003 – John G. Shaw
2008 – Leighton P. Roper III
2010 – Samuel O. Southern
2011 – Lorelle J. Feezor
2012 – Karen A. Gledhill
2013 – Noah H. Huffstetler III
2015 – Claire Moritz
2016 – Ken Burgess
2017 – Renee J. Montgomery
2019 – S. Todd Hemphill

Russell Rawlings is director of external affairs and communications for the North Carolina Bar Association.