The North Carolina Bar Foundation held its Winter Dedication ceremony on Thursday, December 5, at the N.C. Bar Center in Cary.
A NCBF Endowment Justice Fund was named in honor of James Wiiley “Jimmy” Narron with Narron Wenzel in Smithfield. The Narron Justice Fund is a named Endowment Fund established with a minimum gift of $50,000 directed toward the Foundation’s unrestricted endowment.
Jimmy Narron’s father wanted his son to grow up as he had and understand the joy of work. On his 10th birthday, James Wiley Narron was given an alarm clock, promptly set for 5 a.m. His father, a country lawyer, would do the “lawyering” and the boy would do the farming. He would rise at 5 o’clock, lay a fire in the kitchen, feed the hogs, feed the cows, and get ready for the 7 o’clock school bus. At night, it was the same program, in reverse. Early on he learned the direct connection between effort and results.
Narron entered the University at Chapel Hill wholly unprepared for the rigors of higher education. By the second semester, he came to the realization that he should apply his farm work ethic to his studies, after which he excelled. Upon completion of his undergraduate studies in 1970, be fulfilled his R.O.T.C. commitment with the U.S. Navy, where he was an Ensign deployed to the Mediterranean.
One of his assignments was to serve as officer of the deck during General Quarters and when entering and leaving port. From the bridge, he piloted great ships through the Straits of Gibraltar, Messina, and Magellan; saw the lights of Haifa, Israel and Libreville, Gabon, the eerie red glow of Mount Etna at night; entered and left ports from Naples to Halifax, down the east coast of North America and through the Caribbean, around South America to San Diego and San Francisco. Narron left the Navy as a Lieutenant, having completed a transformative experience of great responsibility.
Wake Forest University, almost alone among law schools, had a program left over from World War II under which a student could make up the first semester in summer school. Narron enrolled in January 1973, about three weeks after leaving his ship in San Diego. Under Dr. Robert E. Lee, reading the first case assigned for the first class, he had an epiphany-this was great fun, intellectually exhilarating, logical, something he realized from the first moment would be his life’s work.
For most of the five-semester time, Narron was first in his class; he made Law Review, set aside an hour each night to read, for fun, law review articles or cases cited in the footnotes of casebooks. He worked until 11 p.m. each night and borrowed a key from the Law Review office to work in the stacks on Saturday afternoons and Sundays when the library was closed.
Narron’s father died just at the end of his second semester. His mother kept open his father’s office, preparing income tax returns, and passing off files to other lawyers, with the certain expectation that he would return to his father’s law office and help on the farm, which he did.
In 1979 he joined with John P. O’Hale to form Narron & O’Hale, which in the following year welcomed O. Hampton Whittington Jr. into Narron, O’Hale and Whittington, P.A. The partnership of friends and colleagues lasted nearly 40 years, becoming Narron Wenzel, P.A., near the end of 2018.
At that time, there was more need for estate planning with tax consequences than for “straight” tax planning, at least in eastern North Carolina. He did both, but gravitated toward estate planning with wills and trusts. He had been a charter member of the North Carolina Bar Association Section on Estate Planning and Fiduciary Law and was soon invited to speak at the annual meeting on a tax topic. Not long thereafter, he was invited to become an adjunct professor at the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law at Campbell University. And, soon afterward, he was invited to become part of the faculty at the Southeastern Trust School, also at Campbell, and later at the National Trust School at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University.
Those happy invitations led to a shadow career of teaching, numerous articles in publications, and over 100 continuing education manuscripts delivered across the nation. Because of his teaching, he became, by invitation, a Fellow in the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and a Fellow in the American College of Tax Counsel.
In about 2000, with a nod from his partners, he started out to expand his division of the firm. Thereafter, and with Jason W. Wenzel as his partner, the firm has grown to 11 lawyers and 11 staff, with offices in Smithfield, Raleigh, and Benson. The law practice has been good to Narron, and his younger partners and associates are the light of his life.
But there are other passions. After his mother’s death, he consolidated ownership of the family farm and expanded it. He maintained a large herd of cattle on the farm for many years. Now, he is down to about 20 head, and spends most of his time on heavy machinery maintaining the roads in the Neuse River bottoms. His delight is now his renovation of the old farmhouse where he grew up.
Those other passions include contributions to his community and to the bar. Among other recognitions, he has been named Smithfield-Selma Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year in recognition of his development efforts in downtown Smithfield. He has served on numerous boards, including Johnston Community College Board of Trustees, and the local Library Board. For many years he was on the Board of Directors of the North Carolina Community Foundation, Inc., and served as chairman of that board from 2008 through 2012. He has served as an N.C. State Bar councilor and as chair of its Specialty Committee for Estate Planning, as a Vice President of the NCBA and as chair of the Senior Lawyers Division, and on various committees of the Estate Planning & Fiduciary Law Section.