Welcome to the memorial page for

Ferd Leary Davis, Jr.

December 4, 1941 ~ July 20, 2017 (age 75)

Leary Davis died July 20, 2017, having lived a happy and productive life.  He was born December 4, 1941, three days before Pearl Harbor, at home in Zebulon, N.C., to Ferd L. Davis, Sr. and Selma Ann Harris Davis.  He is survived by his beloved wife of 54 years, Joy Baker Davis, their children, Ferd Leary Davis, III (Trey), James Benjamin Davis and wife, Toni, Elizabeth Joy (EJ) Davis Johnson and husband, Lt. Col. Oliver Johnson; six grandchildren, Trey’s daughter Molly; Ben’s daughter Liles and son Baker; and EJ’s three daughters, Joy, Sara and Ella; brother, John Zebulon Davis (Janet); sisters, Ann Davis Matheny (Robert), Susan Davis Crooks (John); and a treasured extended family.  The cause of death was a combination of leukemia and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

When asked in an interview of what he was most proud, Leary replied how well his children had turned out, though he had to admit that most of the credit belonged to Joy.

He began working after school and during the summer as a printer’s devil in the family printing business in the fourth grade, ultimately editing The Zebulon Record between his junior and senior years in high school.  He increased profits when, in addition to reporting, he sold advertising and helped with typesetting and makeup.

He joined the National Guard when he was a senior at Wakelon High School in Zebulon, where he was a National Merit finalist, president of the student body, co-captain of the football team, and twice an all-conference basketball player.  Having skipped the fifth grade, he graduated from high school at 17 on a Friday night in May, 1959, and was in U.S. Army basic training at Ft. Jackson, S.C. two days later.

After completing six months of active duty, he entered Wake Forest College for the January 1960 semester, graduated from a special artillery officer candidate school at Ft. Sill, OK, at 18 that summer, then returned to Wake Forest for a full academic year.  The following year he graduated from the U.S. Army’s primary and transport rotary wing flight schools, after which he returned to Wake Forest.

Leary and Joy were married as undergraduates at Wake Forest College in January of 1963 and spent three and a half glorious years at 17 Wake Forest College Trailer Park.  In acquiring bachelor and three graduate degrees, they supplemented the proceeds of scholarship awards with National Defense loans; work in tobacco fields, the law library, and as counselors at the N.C. Baptist Assembly at Ft. Caswell; extra National Guard drills Leary got as an Army Aviator, communications officer for the 30th Aviation Battalion at RDU, and tactical officer at the Guard’s Officer Candidate School at Ft. Bragg; and Joy’s post-graduate teaching.

Having been awarded its Babcock Scholarship, he entered Wake Forest’s law school as a combined degree student in 1963 after his junior year in undergraduate school, graduating magna cum laude from undergraduate and cum laude from law school.  He later received a graduate law degree from Columbia University, which he attended as a Dayton Hudson Fellow.

Leary and Joy returned to Zebulon in 1967, where they started their family and he established law practices there and in Raleigh, as a solo practitioner and in partnerships with his father and with lifelong friends.  He assumed a community professional role as North Carolina began to experience rapid economic and population growth.  Among numerous civic engagements, he served as chair of the Board of Deacons of Zebulon Baptist Church, president of the Rotary Club, Town Attorney, Chamber of Commerce director and industry recruiter, precinct chair and member of the N.C. State Democratic Executive Committee.

A creative innovator in law practice, legal education, and local government, he was proud of the role he played in the establishment of the Wake County Public Libraries, which he later chaired.  Following the failure of two bond issue votes to establish a county library system in the 1960s, Leary served as chair of an expansion committee for the Olivia Raney Trust.  He devised a system to be financed jointly by the county and the eight municipalities that operated libraries.  Municipalities with libraries agreed to furnish facilities open at least 40 hours a week and personnel to staff them.  The county agreed to fully furnish, over a five-year period, and then to maintain, books and materials at levels suitable for central, regional and community libraries, as well as personnel to perform county-wide functions for all libraries, such as cataloging.  All contributions would qualify for state and federal matching funds, previously limited to Raleigh’s and the county’s contributions to Olivia Raney. All entities agreed, and the system was so satisfactory that the county eventually assumed total responsibility without the necessity for bonds.

In 1975 Leary was surprised when his former law professor, Campbell College president Norman Wiggins, asked him to become founding dean of what would become Campbell’s new law school.  At the time there was a substantial undersupply of lawyers nationally, but particularly in N.C., by far last in the nation in lawyers per capita.  Leary was given the opportunity to design and implement a program of legal education and to recruit a faculty that met the needs of law students and the publics they would serve.  The school started a year ahead of schedule, and in 1979 its charter class had the second highest bar passage rate of all five N.C. schools, only .2 of a percentage point from first.

After more than a decade of service as founding dean, Leary joined the faculty full-time while directing additional efforts to improve legal education nationally.  He introduced courses in professionalism and practical skills, including trial practice, strategic planning and leadership.  Courses he taught and designed won national awards.  He twice spent semesters at the Center for Creative Leadership’s Colorado Springs campus, first as Visiting Scholar in 1993, and again as Visiting Senior Legal Fellow in 2009.

In 2005 he became founding dean of the law school for Elon University.  The School opened in 2006, was inspected by the ABA in 2007, and was awarded provisional ABA approval in the spring of 2008, by which time Leary had developed a blood disorder which ultimately proved to be leukemia.  He resigned the deanship, assuming the title of Founding Dean Emeritus.  He was the only person to serve as founding dean of two U.S. law schools and lead them both to ABA approval while dean.

He was active in the work of the organized bar, leading or serving on various sections and committees of the North Carolina Bar Association, the North Carolina State Bar, the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism, and the American Bar Association, chairing its National Legal Education Exploratory Conference on Planning and Management Competence in 1985. He was a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management, a Life Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, and an elected member of the American Law Institute.  He served as a vice president of the NCBA.  He was a member of the NCBA Hall of Fame and in 2009 became the 32nd recipient in 50 years of its highest award, the Judge John J. Parker Award.

He spent most of 2010 as acting executive director of Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, a non-profit in Washington, D.C., on whose board he sat.  Most of his energies there were devoted to the design and conduct of leadership development programs for international contingents of Muslim women lawyers and law students.  Thereafter he consulted with universities considering the establishment of ABA-approved law schools and continued his research on lawyers, leadership and the legal profession.

He was twice named to the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest award, first by Governor James Holshouser following participation in a trade mission to Canada in 1973, and then by Governor Jim Hunt at Campbell in 1976.

Leary and Joy shared the strength/weakness of a constitutional inability to go along to get along.  They were always aware of and grateful for the friends and vocational choices they had that smoothed its adverse impacts.

The family requests flowers be omitted and contributions be made to the Leary and Joy Davis Leadership Scholarship at Campbell University School of Law c/o David Bohm, 225 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh, NC 27603 or the charity of your choice.

A memorial service to celebrate his life will be held 4:00 pm, Saturday, July 22, 2017 at Zebulon Baptist Church, 400 N Arendell Ave, Zebulon, 27597.                   

The family will receive relatives and friends at their home in Wendell. 

 Service Information

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