Recently, the Council for Children’s Rights, Legal Aid of North Carolina, and Legal Services of Southern Piedmont hosted their annual Pro Bono Awards, recognizing the important volunteer legal contributions made to each of the organizations. While each group nominated volunteers for their agency in several categories, one award, the Distinguished Pro Bono Service Award, was presented as a collaborative selection by all three organizations. This year’s recipient was Larry J. Dagenhart who has demonstrated extraordinary commitment to the cause of providing legal services to those for whom those services would otherwise be unavailable.
CFCR attorney John Parker presented the award that evening and we share his remarks here. He speaks for all of us in expressing our deep respect and gratitude for the long, dedicated commitment of this remarkable friend to the Council.
“Larry J. Dagenhart is a native of Alexander County, North Carolina. He is a 1953 graduate (as valedictorian) and active alumnus of Davidson College, receiving its honorary Doctor of Laws in 2003. He was a Root-Tilden Scholar at the NYU Law School from which he graduated (cum laude) in 1958. His legal education was interrupted by his service in the United States Army during the Korean Conflict. Larry was licensed to practice law in North Carolina in 1958 and has practiced in Charlotte since that time beginning his practice as the sixth lawyer at the firm of Helms, Mullis, McMillan, & Johnston. He has practiced principally corporate and securities law with that law firm and its successors [now the McGuire Woods law firm] ever since. He was president of the Mecklenburg County Bar in 1974-75. He’s been one of the usual suspects on the “Best Lawyers”, “Leading Lawyers”, and “Super Lawyers” lists for many years.
“But being a smart guy and a great lawyer is not what this award is about.
“Larry’s extraordinary service to the community resulted in his being awarded the I. Beverly Lake Community Service Award by the North Carolina Bar Association in 2012. I won’t recite the list of his activities in the community – it’s a long list.
“Community service is not what this award is about.
“What this award is about is recognition of long-standing and exceptional commitment to providing legal service to those who would otherwise not be able to access it – pro bono legal service.
“In 1961, the Mecklenburg County Bar established a legal aid office to provide legal services in civil matters without cost to folks that couldn’t pay for them. One of the first lawyers to sign up to provide these services to poor people was Larry J. Dagenhart. He has been a consistent and generous financial supporter of Legal Aid of North Carolina and Legal Services of Southern Piedmont and their predecessors throughout his career.
“Larry joined the board of directors of the Children’s Law Center in 2005 just before its merger in 2006 with the Council for Children to create the Council for Children’s Rights. He was and is a vocal champion of the merged entity and his ability, presence, reputation, and the respect in which he was and is held was instrumental in building a positive relationship with the bar and in the greater community. All of that results in financial and volunteer support for the Council for Children’s Rights which translates into legal services for the most vulnerable among us, our children – legal help that they would not otherwise have.
“In 2009, Larry trooped a half-a-dozen lawyers from McGuire Woods to CFCR for training as volunteer attorneys in custody cases. That effort has resulted in a partnership between McGuire Woods and CFCR, involving a couple of dozen McGuire Woods lawyers and staff in which a lawyer and a staff member team up in a case to represent children, who would otherwise be alone and vulnerable as foot-soldiers on the front lines of the custody wars between their parents. Larry has himself handled several of those cases with the skill, equanimity, judgment, compassion, and kindness that is characteristic of him.
“Larry was a member of the board of directors of Council for Children’s Rights from 2005 until 2011, serving as president in 2008-2009. Brett Loftis was Executive Director of the Council for Children’s Rights during that time. About Larry Dagenhart, Brett says:
“Larry was an amazing board member and chair – supportive, consistent, and a vocal champion for legal services for children. He is one of my heroes.”
“Larry is one of my heroes, too.”