Burley B. Mitchell Jr. ’66, former chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, was honored by the N.C. Bar Association and its Young Lawyers Division earlier this month when he was presented the Liberty Bell Award. The award, one of the most prestigious given by the association, honors those “who have strengthened the American system of freedom under the law.”
“You young lawyers coming behind are going to have to pick up what we have not gotten accomplished, and it is legion, as it is with every generation,” Mitchell said when he accepted the award from former Gov. Jim Hunt ’59 on May 6. “We all say this is a wonderful country and I love our court system and it is so great and such a wonderful tradition, but we do take it for granted. All of us do….I accept this in the name of all the people upon whose shoulders I have stood on, and you who I am going to stand on for the rest of my life.”
Next month, Mitchell will receive the Jerry & Elizabeth Godwin Red Torch Award, given in appreciation of individuals or families that have volunteered with distinction to further the mission of the NC State University Foundation. This award recognizes contributions of expertise, counsel, and resources.
In an interview with NC State magazine, Mitchell said his experiences here opened up the world of learning and books, preparing him for law school and the rest of his career.
“I dropped out of high school and went in the service,” he said. “I came back and went to see the dean of the School of Education over there…He called the dean of admissions and said, ‘Give this boy a chance.’ So he did. I got in and I had never really been really interested in school, didn’t much care for it. Some of the professors over there somehow put in me the desire to learn.”
Mitchell said he also enjoyed the feeling he had at NC State that he was part of an institution that was looking to the future. It was a time when the university was working on artificial arteries and ways to save the world’s corn crop. “Every time I turned around NC State was creating a breakthrough. That helped me feel that I was involved in progress,” he said, adding that those experiences helped shape his life in public service.
In 2007, Mitchell received the state’s highest honor, the North Carolina Award, in the field of Public Service. He is currently with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice.