For Public School, Children & Teachers
(January 24, 1943 – December 3, 2017)
Bob Spearman, an honored trial lawyer, led the legal fight to breathe life into the North Carolina Constitution’s guarantee of a sound basic education for all public school students.
Robert Worthington Spearman was born in Durham, the son of Walter S. and Mary E. Dale Spearman. During his formative years in Chapel Hill, where his father was a beloved professor in the UNC School of Journalism, he attended the public schools, delivered the Chapel Hill Weekly for pocket money, became an Eagle Scout, and developed his lifelong love for birds and Carolina basketball. For high school his father, an ardent Democrat, sent him to the Groton School in Massachusetts because President Franklin Roosevelt had gone there. He served as co-captain of the Groton basketball team, graduated first in his class, and was awarded a Morehead Scholarship.
In the fall of 1961, Bob embarked on his near-legendary tenure as a student at UNC, where he compiled a perfect 4.0 academic average and became the first (and only) person in history to be elected president of both the student body and Phi Beta Kappa. As Student Body President he worked alongside Chancellor William B. Aycock, UNC President William Friday and Governor Terry Sanford to oppose North Carolina’s infamous “Speaker Ban” law, which was the subject of his senior honors thesis. From there Bob attended Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship.
After graduating from the Yale Law School in 1970, Bob served as law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. Bob would help him draft his last and most famous opinion, in the “Pentagon Papers” case. Returning to North Carolina in 1971, he entered private law practice in Raleigh. He practiced with Sanford, Cannon, Adams & McCullough and its successor firms for his entire career, retiring on January 1, 2010 from Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein. Bob was best known for his creative and energetic representation of public school students from poor and rural counties in the landmark case known as Leandro v. State of North Carolina. The Leandro case, which was filed in 1994 and is still pending, resulted in two major State Supreme Court opinions. The first ruled that North Carolina school children have a judicially enforceable constitutional right to a sound and basic education. The second affirmed a series of later superior court decisions after trials, and held the State had wrongfully denied this right to many State schoolchildren. Bob’s Parker Poe colleagues, for whom he was a mentor and role model, are carrying on his fight.
Bob’s honors as an attorney included his election to the American College of Trial Lawyers and his service as a director of the American Judicature Society. He served as a faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy, taught trial practice at the UNC School of Law, and was a frequent lecturer at judge’s conferences and lawyer seminars.
He is survived by his wife of 44 years, Patricia Hinds Spearman; daughters Madolyn Marschall (Mark Salditch) and Dorothy Marschall of Corte Madera, California; four grandchildren; and sister Mary Lindsay Spearman of Chapel Hill.