Peter W. Hairston
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COOLEEMEE - Peter W. Hairston, 93, a former Superior Court judge and member of the North Carolina General Assembly, died Sunday, Feb. 4, 2007, at his ancestral home, Cooleemee Plantation, on the Yadkin River in Davie County.
Mr. Hairston was born Aug. 2, 1913, at Cooleemee Plantation, a son of Peter Wilson Hairston and Elmer George Hairston, and lived there most of his life. In 1949, he married Lucy Dortch in Washington, D.C., and they moved to Cooleemee. Mrs. Hairston preceded him in death in 1998.
Judge Hairston lived a life of service to his nation, state and community. Among the highlights of his public service are three terms in the North Carolina House of Representatives and appointment by Gov. James B. Hunt and subsequent election as a Superior Court judge. He was a decorated veteran. He fought in Europe in World War II, leaving the U.S. Army in 1946 as a captain with the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and five Battle Stars.
Mr. Hairston received his early education at home through the Calvert School method. He later attended Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, Va., graduating in 1930 with scholarship medals from his junior and senior years. In 1933, he received the A.B. Degree from the University of North Carolina, where he was Phi Beta Kappa; and in 1935, the L.L.B. degree from the university's Law School, where he was on the board of the Law Review. One of Mr. Hairston's fondest memories of Chapel Hill was being greeted as a freshman by Dr. Frank Porter Graham, who helped carry his trunk to his dormitory room.
Mr. Hairston was admitted to the North Carolina Bar in 1935, and in the years just prior to and after the war, he practiced law and was with a major insurance company in Charlotte and later in Washington.
In 1948, Mr. Hairston returned to Cooleemee to assume responsibilities of managing the plantation. He devoted the next six years to restoring the house, which is designated a National Historic Landmark, and to beginning to bring back the land to its earlier productivity. To conserve the property for posterity, Judge Hairston in 1996 placed Cooleemee Plantation in the Land Trust for Central North Carolina, making it one of the largest agricultural properties under land trust in North Carolina.
In 1954, he established a law practice in the county seat of Mocksville and maintained it until being appointed to the bench in 1977. A lifelong Democrat, Mr. Hairston was respected as a principled citizen who related to farmers and working people and was their advocate. He supported candidates of his party who held what he considered progressive views, such as former Congressman and gubernatorial candidate L. Richardson Preyer.
With Mrs. Hairston, he traveled throughout much of the world, including several trips to Scotland, where he visited the region where his ancestors lived, and to Morocco and the African subcontinent, to China and the then-Soviet Union, and across Europe. Wherever and however he and Lucy traveled - by barge down the canals in France or on safari in Kenya - they made friends whom they invited to Cooleemee and entertained there. But Judge Hairston was just as comfortable driving a tractor on hayrides to entertain guests at the Forest Lake Campground he and Lucy established on part of the family farm in 1968.
Judge Hairston was a voracious reader, a keen observer of current affairs and a devotee of classical music. He was particularly fond of the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, from which he derived great enjoyment. He was a gracious and entertaining host and notables from the political, educational, literary and entertainment worlds found their way to his table. Each Wednesday night for the last decade, he presided over dinner at Cooleemee for a small group of devoted friends, prompting lively discussion and providing insights and wise counsel.
Always a scholar and conscientious historian, Mr. Hairston wrote articles for historical journals, magazines and newspapers and sections of other books. Much of his writing was about Cooleemee and other plantations that had been owned by members of the Hairston family. When descendants of former slaves at Cooleemee established the Hairston Clan, Judge Hairston was one of their strongest advocates. For many years, he attended the annual meetings of the Hairston Clan and on occasion was the keynote speaker. He spent countless hours compiling genealogical records which he shared with Hairston Clan members. The Hairston Clan honored both him and Lucy for their contributions to mankind.
Mr. Hairston is survived by two sons, Peter W. Hairston, who has followed in his father's path at Cooleemee, and George R. Hairston of Winston-Salem, whose woodworking has been integral to the restoration of the home place. He is also survived by a brother, Nelson Hairston of Chapel Hill; granddaughter Maggie Hairston of Seattle; and two grandsons, Thomas Hairston of Greensboro and Cordell Hairston of Winston-Salem.
Visitation and Service: The family will receive people at the home on Friday, Feb. 9, 2007, from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. A memorial service for Judge Hairston will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, 2007, at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in the Fork community of Davie County, a parish his family helped establish near Cooleemee Plantation, with the Rev. Sealy Cross officiating. Entombment will follow in the church Columbarium.
Arrangements are by Piedmont Funeral Home of Lexington. Online condolences may be made at www.piedmontfuneralhome.com
Published in Salisbury Post on Feb. 8, 2007