Kenneth Franklin Essex ’65

Following a long and courageous battle with multiple myeloma, Kenneth Franklin Essex peacefully passed away the morning of Oct. 13, 2022, at his home in Davidson, North Carolina. He was 79 years old.
Born to Paul and Ruth Essex on March 9, 1943, in Morristown, New Jersey, and raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Mr. Essex was a standout student and athlete at R.J. Reynolds High School before attending Davidson College, where he earned a degree in history.
While pursuing his undergraduate studies, Mr. Essex joined the Army ROTC and trained to become an Army Officer. Upon graduation from Davidson, he attended the U.S. Army’s Intelligence and Airborne Schools before seeing active duty in the Vietnam War as an intelligence officer and Lieutenant. He bravely served from 1965-1967 and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.
After returning from Vietnam, Mr. Essex attended law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1970 and joined the venerable Thigpen & Hines P.A. as an associate (and later a partner). Throughout his early years of practicing law, he developed a reputation as a devoted and principled counselor to his clients.
In 1976, Mr. Essex and partner Channing Richards founded the law firm Essex Richards P.A., which was guided by a simple philosophy: If they worked hard, provided excellent counsel and made their clients feel well-served, those clients would return and refer their friends. With an approach rooted in professionalism, integrity and excellence in all aspects of the practice, they built what is today one of Charlotte’s preeminent midsize law firms, where the attorneys take pride in their work, prioritize client needs and give back to their community.
Throughout his 45-year legal career, Mr. Essex received numerous honors and awards, including recognition as one of the North Carolina’s “Legal Elite” and being rated “AV Preeminent” by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest peer rating for attorneys for both exceptional legal ability and ethical standards. During his time as a corporate lawyer, he lectured on a variety of topics, including business law, commercial real estate, estate planning and probate, and estate tax.
His wartime experience in Vietnam redefined Mr. Essex’s worldview and at the same time reaffirmed his commitment to service. He cared deeply about the direction of the country and became active in politics by volunteering his time and supporting candidates and causes that he believed were honorable and just. Even during his illness, he never stopped advocating for what he felt was important, including marching with his wife, daughter and granddaughter in support of women’s rights in 2016. To his friends, family and colleagues, he served as a trusted sounding board and an unshakable moral compass.
Involved with numerous professional and civic organizations, Mr. Essex was a board member of the ACLU, the Dowd YMCA, the Literacy Council and Friendship Trays. A stalwart of the Mecklenburg County Bar, he volunteered in a variety of leadership positions that included serving on its Executive Committee as well as chairing its Medical/Legal Committee, Legal Services for the Elderly Committee and Judicial Nominating Committee. He served on the board and as vice chairman of the nonprofit Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont, which provides civil legal assistance to low-income people. In addition, Mr. Essex was a board member for cable and internet company MI-Connection and volunteered at Dilworth Elementary School, Myers Park High School and his alma mater of Davidson College.
Mr. Essex was witty, humble and unfailingly kind. To his family, he was affectionately known as “King Ken” for his wisdom, strength of character and dignified, gentlemanly nature. Close friends conferred another nickname – “Puff” – because of his uncanny knack for vanishing at opportune times (in a proverbial puff of smoke). To his colleagues, Mr. Essex was many things, including unflinching in his leadership – in good times and hard – and always generous with his time and knowledge. He was an encouraging and compassionate presence to his partners, associates and staff. And he was almost always late for meetings.
After learning to sail while in college, Mr. Essex maintained a passion for boating for the rest of his life. He was most content when on (or near) the water with loved ones. In his younger days, he was an avid runner who competed in the Marine Corps Marathon and other distance races. Mr. Essex enjoyed an occasional glass of bourbon (but “only the cheap stuff”) and was a talented musician who often strummed his guitar in the bathroom (because it had the “best acoustics”). A passionate (and often tortured) sports fan, Mr. Essex cheered for the Davidson Wildcats, Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Hornets, for which he was an original season-ticket holder. Some of his children’s fondest memories are of attending basketball games with him at “The Hive,” where he always ordered the largest box of popcorn (with plenty of extra salt).
Before and after his retirement, Mr. Essex journeyed the world with his best friend and beloved wife of 30 years, Faye Sultan, who was his constant companion in sailing, swimming, gazing at fish and navigating the tides. Their frequent adventures took them to Tanzania, Iceland, Norway, the West Indies, Morocco, Turkey, France, New Zealand, Australia, Portugal, Spain and a cathartic return to Vietnam. The trips often included a sailboat with “Captain Ken” calmly at the helm – across choppy water and endless blue seas alike.
Above all else, Mr. Essex cherished his roles as a devoted husband, father, “granddaddy,” and friend. He is survived by wife and “first mate” Faye Sultan of Davidson; daughter Beth Essex (Paul Ecker) of Portland, Oregon; son Jesse Essex (Chelsey) of Charlotte; son Luke Essex (Amanda Oliver) of Charlotte; son David Long of Charlotte; “adopted daughter” Amanda Long of Charlotte; and dear grandchildren Abby Ecker, Ruby Ecker, Riley Essex and Sylvie Essex. He was preceded in death by his loving parents, J. Paul and Ruth Essex, and his older brother, J. Paul Essex Jr.
The family extends its sincere appreciation to the compassionate physicians and healthcare professionals at Levine Cancer Institute and Carolinas Medical Center. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region at or The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society at
A private memorial service will be held at a future date.
James Funeral Home, of Huntersville, is serving the family and obituary lovingly written by the family.