Wade Barber ’67

Wade Barber Jr., lawyer, judge, and son of Chatham County, died at home Friday, May 13, 2022. His family was with him—his wife Marina, his daughters Claire and Liz, their partners Lois Bukowski and Danny Spiegel, and his son James Riley. He is survived by his grandchildren Fanya, Yaakov, Simi, Maayan, Sam, and Levi, and beloved nephews and nieces.  He is remembered among lawyers in North Carolina as a leader.

In 1916, his father (Wade Sr.) founded a law practice in Pittsboro and practiced there continuously until his retirement in 1982. Wade joined his father in that practice in 1971 and, with interruptions to be of broader service to the community, Wade practiced law there until 2022.

In Wade’s Pittsboro boyhood, it was a short walk to school, to the grocery store, to the barber shop, to the Presbyterian Church, to the courthouse (where his father could often be found), to Miss Martin’s house across the street (where she had a television long before the Barbers did), and to the hard-dirt baseball field (where boys of all backgrounds played together). As a teenager in that place at that time he was told never to take the keys out of the car’s ignition. It would make them too hard to find for the next driver—his mama Agnes or his sisters Betty Scott and Mary Hayes.

At Davidson College, Wade made friendships that lasted all his life, and he reveled in the school’s academic opportunities, all except Spanish, an obstacle to graduation overcome just in time.

In law school at Chapel Hill, Wade found that the intellectual demands of the law—logic, reason, clarity of thought, and precision of expression—comported with his way of thinking.  He was good at these things and he liked them.  In the years ahead, Wade encountered another set of demands that the law requires of good lawyers. These demands are empathy, compassion, a willingness to try to understand another person’s burdens, an ability to guide a person through deeply challenging times, the shouldering of responsibility that is intrinsic to the representation of a client, and humility. He was good at these things, too. His clients also found that he was good at these things and they admired him. He developed a mature respect for the dignity of each individual.

In 1977 the legislature split Chatham and Orange Counties off to be their own prosecutorial district. Governor Jim Hunt appointed Wade to be the chief prosecutor (that is, the district attorney) for the new district. Wade was elected by the voters to a full term in 1978. His respect for the dignity of individuals showed itself when he prosecuted people for crimes. He worked always to understand how this person came to be in this bad spot. It also showed itself, clearly and brightly, in his efforts to protect the victims of crime and ease their loads.

In 1985 Wade returned to his Pittsboro practice, representing a wide range of clients and expanding his work in land use law and the creation of attractive, practical, environmentally mindful residential developments.

In 1998, Governor Hunt appointed Wade as a judge of the North Carolina superior court. He ended his service as Senior Resident Superior Court Judge for District 15B in 2006. He returned to his Pittsboro practice–his third stint–and in 2010 was joined by his daughter Liz, forming the firm of Barber & Barber. It was a very happy and fulfilling time for him.

Four of Wade’s grandchildren, Claire’s children, live in California. The physical distance has been great, but the bonds of affection have been close. His two Chapel Hill grandchildren, Liz’s boys, are physically closer, and the bonds of affection are the same. Wade brought his creative energy and many talents to his role as Grandpap – whether spontaneously erecting a zipline in his front yard one Thanksgiving, catching critters and building dams in creeks, constructing bows and arrows, or providing rotten stumps and pint-sized tools to use to smash them up.

Wade and Marina met on a canoeing trip in 1976, and they were married six weeks later. They dedicated themselves to each other. They loved a winter evening at home watching Tar Heel basketball and a summer afternoon in the shade of an umbrella at the beach. They also loved adventure, and they opened the world of daring to their children. They camped in the Andes Mountains at 14,000 feet, where the campsite stream froze overnight. They sailed their Flying Scot often on Jordan Lake and taught their girls to sail and navigate on trips in the Chesapeake Bay and Abaco Islands. They amused the boatmen on a river in Kenya with the news (which the boatmen may not have believed) that there are no monkeys in North Carolina. 

Wade was a skilled woodworker, and the exquisite bowls he turned are the treasured possessions of those lucky enough to have them.

Wade and Marina built a home in Ashe County. They designed it specifically as a place where they could gather with family sometimes and with friends sometimes and with both sometimes.  For a decade it has been a comforting and welcoming haven in the mountains.

Wade’s career was one of service. He served on the board of directors of the Golden Leaf Foundation and the North Carolina Environmental Defense Fund. He served on the board of governors of the North Carolina Bar Association. He was chairman of the North Carolina Task Force on Dispute Resolution and the North Carolina Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission. He served on the North Carolina Courts Commission, the North Carolina Criminal Code Commission, the Commission on Alternatives to Incarceration, and the Chief Justice’s Advisory Committee on Court Personnel.

He received the North Carolina Civil Liberties Union Award, the North Carolina Mediation Network Service Award, the North Carolina Bar Association’s Dispute Resolution Section Service Award, and the Chatham County Smart Start Distinguished Service Award, and, in March of 2022, he was inducted into the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. 

Wade was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in January 2022, and its progression was swift. Through his months of illness, he maintained grace and courage. He had, by his own description, “a thick skin and a sense of humor.” He lived his last allotted time as he had lived his life.

A Memorial Service will be held 2:00PM, Monday, May 16, 2022, at the United Church of Chapel Hill – 1321 M.L.K. Jr Blvd, Chapel Hill, NC 27514.

Wade’s memorial will be a Friends (Quaker) meeting. For Friends, a memorial meeting for worship is a time of prayer, of thanksgiving, and remembering.  At times an individual may be moved to speak, to offer a prayer or a message that has come out of this silence.  Most of the messages will, no doubt, relate to our memories of Wade and our celebration of his life.  Neither laughter nor tears are out of place.  Any message which is delivered in a worshipful manner is appropriate.  Reflections, poetry, singing, and stories may all be part of the fabric of memory we weave together.  All present are free to speak, but all messages should be brief.  Please stand and speak loudly and clearly so you may be heard by all.  

If you are comfortable, please remove your mask while speaking.  Please leave ample pauses between speakers so that we may contemplate fully the import and meaning of your message.  

At the appropriate time, Carolyn Stuart will signal the conclusion of the celebration by shaking hands with her neighbors.  You are then invited to shake hands with your neighbors.  A few closing remarks will follow.

In lieu of flowers donations may be made to Environmental Defense Fund.

Donaldson Funeral Home & Crematory is honored to serve the Barber family.