Willis Donald Brown, who represented Harnett, Lee and the Plain View, Mingo and Herring precincts of Sampson County in the North Carolina House of Representatives, died Friday at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. His wife and family were by his side.
He was 89 years old.
Brown led Campbell University’s School of Law for six years beginning in 1989, serving as both dean and as the school’s interim vice president for advancement.
“Willis Brown was a good and loyal friend to many, but especially to many of us on the School of Law faculty,” said Jim McLaughlin, professor of law at the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law at Campbell University. “He always had a kind word for folks. Willis had a good sense of humor and was a great storyteller. He made us laugh often. Obviously, he is missed by many of us.”
Brown was honored with the James Iredell Award presented by Campbell Law School’s Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity. The award is presented each year to an individual who has made significant contributions to the legal profession and to Campbell Law, according to the university.
Brown and his wife were recognized in the 2017 spring edition of Campbell Magazine for having given more than $100,000 to his alma mater during his lifetime.
In 1994, Brown ran as a “conservative Democrat” from Buies Creek for one of two open House seats. He garnered the second highest tally of votes (10,762) in the race with three other contenders.
“We have proved if you are positive and stay that way long enough and fight hard enough then you don’t have to be negative. We have run the race. We have reached the finish line and we can give each other a high five,” Brown told The Daily Record on that election night Nov. 8, 1994.
Brown served one term in the House of Representatives, advocating for reduced taxes and conservative spending, but his life of service to his community continued far beyond those two years.
Brown was born the ninth child of 14 children to the late Otis David and Sally Spell Brown in Kenansville on Oct. 3, 1929. He earned an Associate of Arts degree from Campbell College, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of North Carolina School of Law. After law school, he joined the Army and graduated from JAG School at the University of Virginia. He served three years in the U.S. Army JAG as a lieutenant. After leaving the Army, Brown moved to Fayetteville where he served as senior partner in the law firm of Brown, Fox, Deaver, Sweeney, Harris, Mitchell, and Moss for 24 years and was owner of Ann & Willis Brown Rental Company.
He was president of the Exchange Club and served on the board of Hope Harbor Ministries. He served on many committees in Fayetteville over the years and was an active member of Snyder Memorial Baptist Church for 30 years. His service in churches around the area included roles as an usher, Sunday school teacher, church greeter and member of Synder Memorial Baptist Church’s Board of Trustees.
Brown was a 32nd degree Mason and served as Potentate of the Sudan Temple Shrine in 1984. He served on the board of directors of the Good Shepherd Ministries. He was a member of the New Hanover and Pender County Bar Association, the North Carolina Bar Association, the American Bar Association and the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers.
From 2003 to 2011, Brown was a professor of criminal justice at Mount Olive College, where he taught ethics and criminal procedure courses. He loved to golf, snow ski, scuba dive, fly airplanes, ride horses, sail boats and travel with his wife.