Jernigan Justice Fund Dedicated
The John L. Jernigan Justice Fund of the North Carolina Bar Foundation (NCBF) Endowment was dedicated on Wednesday, May 30, at the N.C. Bar Center in Cary.
Jernigan is the chairman of Smith, Anderson, Blount, Dorsett, Mitchell & Jernigan in Raleigh. He served as president of the North Carolina Bar Association and NCBF in 1999-2000.
NCBA/NCBF President Caryn Coppedge McNeill presided and Judge Julian Mann III, NCBF Endowment Committee chair, provided remarks.
Jernigan was introduced by Robert A. Ingram, chairman emeritus of GlaxoSmithKline, chair of the North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation and general partner of Hatteras Venture Partners; and Martin H. Brinkley, Smith Anderson partner and dean and Arch T. Allen Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina School of Law.
Jernigan was the third member of the Smith Anderson firm to serve as president of the NCBA/NCBF, preceded by the late James K. Dorsett Jr. (1959-60) and Willis Smith (1941-42) and followed by Brinkley (2011-12) and McNeill (2017-18).
Jernigan has spent his entire career with the Smith Anderson firm, which he joined in 1969 following service in the U.S. Army. He is a 1964 graduate of Davidson College and a 1967 graduate of the University of North Carolina School of Law.
Jernigan is a native of Atlanta and grew up in Durham. He and his wife, Ginger, have been together for 50 years. They have two children, daughter Lee Ashley Bonfield and son Frank Jernigan, and one grandchild, William Thomas (Liam) Bonfield Jr., who unveiled the Justice Fund plaque.
NCBF Endowment Justice Funds honor North Carolina lawyers, past and present, whose careers have shown dedication to the pursuit of justice and outstanding service to the profession and the public. Justice Funds are established through a gift of $50,000 by one or more contributors. (a law firm, group of attorneys, associates and family members).
North Carolina lawyers designated and honored by the creators of a Justice Fund receive special recognition in the form of a permanent copper-etched plaque and biographical sketch maintained at the N.C. Bar Center.
The NCBF Endowment was established in 1987 and has awarded grants totaling more than $6 million for more than 750 projects that further the Foundation’s mission to unite the generosity and talent of our profession to be a power of greater good for the people of North Carolina. NCBF Justice Funds advance the Foundation’s values of access to justice, service through the profession, civic education, and professionalism.
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The Jernigan biographical sketch reads as follows:
John Jernigan: In His Own Words
Though my life did not begin here, I have always considered North Carolina my home state. I was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and lived with my mother and grandparents while my father was serving overseas with the Army Air Corp during World War II. Upon his return, my father’s business relationships in the tobacco industry brought our family to Durham, and I am proud to be a product of the Bull City. My first exposure to the law came from my grandparents who taught me about my great-grandfather and his distinguished career. Dr. John Wesley Heidt had a successful law practice in Savannah, Georgia, which was interrupted by the Civil War. Upon his return to Savannah, after service in the Chatham Artillery, he entered the Seminary and became an Episcopal Rector and College President.
My interest in becoming a lawyer was kindled by my experiences while attending Boys Nation during my senior year in high school. It was there that I learned about the importance of leadership and the value of a legal education in teaching you how to become a leader. Boys Nation was a two-week national leadership conference held in Washington, D.C. and the University of Maryland for ninety-six students; two students invited from each of the 48 states. At Boys Nation, I was paired with Senator Sam J. Ervin, the senior Senator from North Carolina, and spent considerable time with Senator Ervin and other distinguished political leaders, including Senator John F. Kennedy and President Dwight Eisenhower. Senator Ervin maintained his interest in my future and encouraged me to apply for admission to Davidson College, where his son and future Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge had attended, and to West Point, where he gave me a principal appointment.
I graduated from Davidson College in 1964 where I earned my A.B. in history. Guided by the influence of Judge Dickson Phillips, a graduate of Davidson College and Dean of the UNC Law School, I entered Law School at the University of North Carolina, earning my J.D. in 1967. After law school, I began military service during the Vietnam era and served as an Army Captain in NORAD, where I experienced firsthand some extraordinary leadership training. In 1969, I returned home to North Carolina and joined Smith Anderson, where I had the privilege of working closely with Jim Dorsett, one of the most distinguished and able corporate lawyers in the state and an exceptional mentor. Jim’s gift of mentorship was life defining for me.
I have learned the importance of strong relationships - relationships with my extraordinary colleagues at Smith Anderson and the wonderful clients with whom I still am privileged to work. My practice includes mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, banking, and corporate law. Most of my legal experience has been in connection with representing businesses in complex commercial transactions, such as structuring, negotiating, and closing mergers and acquisitions and representing some of the most significant corporations headquartered in or doing business in North Carolina. Further, I have advised Boards of public and large private companies and their officers and directors on general corporate law matters. I have served as Smith Anderson’s Managing Partner, and now am honored to be the Firm’s Chairman. I was privileged to serve as President of the North Carolina Bar Association for the year 1999-2000.
My experience as a lawyer has exceeded my high expectations. I continue to work with some of the finest lawyers and leaders anywhere, and recognize this privilege very few ever have the opportunity to experience. I am proud of Smith Anderson’s record of client service and consistent efforts to serve our clients, and took special pride on the occasion of our Firm’s 100th Anniversary in 2012. As my friend and professional colleague Wade Smith remarked, “For a firm of Smith Anderson’s caliber to stay together, grow and prosper for a full century is truly a miracle.”
Outside of Smith Anderson, I enjoy living a rich life with my family and good friends. My best day’s work was the day I met my wife Ginger, who has been by my side for 50 years, demonstrating every day her patience and support, evidencing humility and wisdom, and being simply remarkable. We are extremely proud of our two wonderful children, daughter Lee Ashley, a graduate of Duke University, and son Frank, a graduate of Davidson College, and our only grandson, Liam, who lives just around the corner. As a family, we enjoy traveling and just being together, as we believe in appreciating life and living every day to the fullest.
When I look back over the last 50 years, I recognize how blessed I have been to be part of such a wonderful Law Firm, which has given me the opportunity to work in a sophisticated corporate practice and allowed me to work closely with many of our extraordinary clients. I also recognize how much the legal practice has changed in the last half century. No doubt, technology has allowed us to become more nimble and responsive in our practice, but I feel it has also influenced the way we practice. When I started at Smith Anderson, I had the benefit of learning from wonderful mentors the nuances of law and communication without the impact of technology. We had high expectations to work with quality people and were acutely aware of our professionalism. Today, the demands of technology impact the way we work. In the pressure to move at an ever-faster pace, as lawyers, we sometimes forget to appreciate the life opportunities the law practice affords us and the value of client relationships. At the end of the day, the things that stand out the most to me are the relationships developed with clients and colleagues—they are truly a remarkable gift. Therefore, before I respond to the next client email, I consider the power of quality communication and the optimal way to handle the matter at hand. Because, it is not about how fast you do something, but how well you do it.
In addition to the special influence of Judge Phillips and Jim Dorsett, I have been blessed to learn from and have the support of some of the very best lawyers. More than great lawyers, they were all exceptional human beings whose lives were well lived. The value of a mentor in law practice cannot be overstated. I ask myself “What would Judge Phillips do?” or “What would Jim do?” almost every day as I work out new challenges.
In the challenging and wonderful practice of law, I believe we must count our blessings each and every day and remember, as professionals, it is our duty to serve our clients to the best of our ability, serve our profession, and serve our community.