John B. McMillan
1942 - 2019
Share
Share John's life story with friends and family
Send an Email
Or Copy this URL to Share
John B. McMillan

August 31, 1942 - February 6, 2019

Raleigh

John Burchfield McMillan, 76, passed away February 6, 2019, after a long and truly courageous battle against cancer over a three-year span. But John's life was not defined by that struggle. It was a big life indeed, marked by a wonderful marriage to his wife of more than 50 years, the former Angelyn Stokes, by two sisters, Julia and Mary, and brother, Robert, all of whom supported and adored John through his very last day. Tall and burly, John was a physical reflection of that life. He loved the big continent of Africa, to which he and Angie traveled with friends many times, and his home on Blackberry Lane was itself big in its rooms and its fireplaces and its open spaces devoted to artifacts of those African travels. It was a warm and welcoming place, and John particularly enjoyed having fireplaces in the living room and den. John and Angie welcomed visitors of all ages, all backgrounds and yes, all countries. If John thought someone was going to be without a place to go for Thanksgiving and Christmas, he invited them to share the holidays with him and Angie. But John perhaps valued most his oldest friendships, many of them formed during his undergraduate days at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, when he was a member of the ATO fraternity and later, in study groups at the law school. A long-time partner at Manning, Fulton & Skinner in Raleigh, John developed a government relations practice, a field at which he was rated "the best" in North Carolina so many times his rivals quit counting the annual rankings. He credited his mentors and friends at the firm with his success — Howard Manning, Charlie Fulton, Bill Skinner, Marshall Happer and Jack Gulley. But John made sure to "give back" to his profession by working with younger lawyers throughout his career, including current partners John Hardin and Will Morgan, whom he reckoned to be among his finest colleagues in his long career. By the time John stepped away after 51 years, the firm had over 40 lawyers. But in fact, he never really stepped away entirely, and was still counseling people, including his partners, until his last days. John maintained an active interest in politics, particularly the Democratic Party. He also helped raise funds for a seemingly endless group of worthy causes: The Nature Conservancy, the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the University of North Carolina School of Law. John was also a faithful leader of the Boy Scouts, taking troops on many camping trips, as he believed the Scouts were a character-building institution. John himself was an Eagle Scout. During his career, John received many professional awards, including the University of North Carolina School of Law's Lifetime Achievement Award and a North Carolina State Bar award was named after him. All other honors would literally take too long to name — and John wouldn't approve, anyway. But if there's a cause of which John was most proud, and a success for which he was due immense credit, it was the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. He chaired the board of that organization and raised millions and millions of dollars for it, still working the phones in the last weeks of his life. That wonderful building in downtown Raleigh with the "world globe" being its signature, might well be called the House that McMillan built, though John was never one to seek self-glorification in any way, even in jest. He simply loved the museum, and his reward was in seeing it succeed in becoming known as a "Smithsonian of the South." For if there was a characteristic that always defined John for his closest friends, it was his humility, his quiet manner, and his graciousness.

One of his friends, Governor Roy Cooper, said on learning of John's death, "John McMillan was an extraordinary attorney, public servant, and good friend whose life was defined by so much more than his work. He loved his friends and family, music, the outdoors and North Carolina. He will be greatly missed." John always worked to honor the values and dedication to community as modeled by his parents, Dr. Robert Monroe McMillan and Dorothy Burchfield McMillan. John remembered them always as generous and compassionate, and his father (his grandfather also was a doctor) cared for patients of all backgrounds and races. John had clear memories of going to his father's office and meeting people on house calls with him – it was the kind of personal attention that served as a model in John's professional life.

His parents also valued education, and that's one reason John attended the Hill School, a prep school in Pennsylvania, before he was off to Chapel Hill.

There he set the stage for a long and successful and yes, very happy life indeed. John's last weeks were marked by visits from many friends, including member of a group he called "the Wise Men," a name most of the members would have chuckled about, as they saw themselves blessed to just be able to call John McMillan their good friend. John invited the members, who never numbered more than just a few, to join, and they met for Scotch and cookies at his house on every other Monday. Rivalries over who could build the best fire developed, and John chuckled at all that. The group was diverse and included Martin Brinkley, dean of the UNC law school, developer Carlton Midyette, attorney Wade Smith, John's long-time physician, Dr. Bob Bilbro, the Rev. Art Ross, retired from White Memorial Presbyterian Church, state Rep. Grier Martin, News & Observer cartoonist Dwane Powell and Jim Jenkins, retired N&O columnist and editor.

Family members surviving John are: his wife, Angie; his sisters Julia (Jed Dietz) of Baltimore and Mary (John Jackson) of Toronto and brother Robert of Raleigh. Also close to John and surviving him are Julia's children, Edith Dietz (Emmanuel Opati) of Baltimore, Robert Dietz (Julie) of Chicago, and Elihu Dietz (Lily Rothman) of Brooklyn, NY. John is also survived by a great niece (Clara) and a great nephew (Bernard). John McMillan did not believe himself to be an example of valor in his three-year battle with cancer, but his friends certainly did. They marveled at his courage and his good humor, even on his last stay at REX Hospital, where he joked with nurses and faced his ultimately grim diagnosis — after years of clinical trials at Johns Hopkins and UNC Hospitals — with the usual somber determination. He was fortunate to come home and to enjoy being surrounded with family and friends in his last days.

We do not always know when a great person is among us, but we know when he or she has left us. John McMillan's friends and those who crossed his path during their lives, experiencing his grace and good humor, will carry on, hoping that John will know they are not forgetting him or his causes. For they never will. The McMillan family asks that in lieu of flowers, his friends honor John with contributions to the North Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, or the University of North Carolina School of Law. A memorial service and celebration of his life will be held Friday, February 15, 2019, at 2:00PM at White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh. Friends of John will be providing special music 45 minutes prior to the service. Condolences may be sent to CremationSocietyNC.com

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in The News and Observer on Feb. 10, 2019.
MEMORIAL EVENTS
FEB
15
Celebration of Life
02:00 PM
White Memorial Presbyterian Church
MEMORIES & CONDOLENCES
Not sure what to say?
View Printed Guest Book
10 entries
August 17, 2019
Angie,
I was so saddened when I saw that John had passed away this year and I was not aware. I have so many warm memories of you both on the Woodrow/Wilson trail. One of my favorites was sledding down the hill racing with John to get to your home during the "big" snow. I am not in Raleigh much these days but think very fondly of you and John and the time we were neighbors. Lots of love from Lola and me.
Susan Gaines
Friend
April 2, 2019
Angie, this is Heidi. We got to know one another through my work at Duke years ago with your organization. I was just thinking of you this morning, was wondering how you were doing, and always enjoyed working with you - you were such a kind, considerate person and it was a pleasure to know you. I'm very sorry to hear about your husband and please know you are in my thoughts and prayers. Many hugs to a lady with a beautiful spirit and heart at a very difficult time.
March 4, 2019
I know I am little late writing this but John was a true blessing. He never ceased to make me smile every time he came to his appts. He gave the best hugs and was so loving. Im glad he is at peace. Love and miss you so much John B<3
Hannah Keifer
February 15, 2019
Dear Angie and all of John's family. I am very deeply saddened at John's passing. I have never known a finer person, a finer friend or a finer colleague. I am also sad that I cannot attend John's memorial service today. I will, however, watch it on the Internet.

I was honored to assist in recruiting John to join Manning, Fulton & Skinner and while I was 4 years older, we were the youngest lawyers in the firm learning together how best to engage in the practice of law. John and I tried our first solo civil case together (without Howard Manning or Charlie Fulton who were mentoring both of us).

Since John's death, there have been some really nice articles written about him, all of which he would have modestly just disregarded were he still alive. I have noticed that a couple of John's achievements have not been mentioned.

The NC Zoo in Randolph County was founded between 1964 and 1973. John's first community contribution was to become actively involved and devote lots of time to assist in the founding of our NC Zoo. Perhaps, that is where he found his love of Africa. https://www.nczoo.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/2014_summer.pdf

In 1975, Judge Hamilton Hobgood was handpicked by the Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court to preside over the murder case against Joan Little, a 21-year-old black women who killed a 62-year-old white jailer at the Beaufort County jail with an ice pick. The case had been removed from Beaufort County to Wake County for trial.

There were swarms of chanting demonstrators surrounding the Wake County courthouse as the case had aroused deep seated racial feelings. Questions were raised as to whether a fair trial could be held in North Carolina for such a case. Judge Hobgood dispelled those doubts and at the nationally publicized trial, Joan Little was eventually acquitted by a jury.

In 1975, Superior Court Judges like Judge Hobgood did not have judicial clerks and while Judge Hobgood was one of the very best Superior Court Judges, he needed lots of research help and advice on how to rule on the avalanche of issues presented to him at the trial.

Confidentially, Judge Hobgood called on Howard Manning for help and Howard assigned John to work confidentially day and night to assist Judge Hobgood throughout the trial. As far as I know, neither Howard or John ever took any credit for their help for Judge Hobgood and I doubt that it was ever made public. John McMillan was a very good lawyer from the beginning of his career and he never took public credit for much of what he did. https://www.nytimes.com/1995/11/19/us/hamilton-h-hobgood-87-north-carolina-judge.html

John was a very special friend and colleague for me. He was a Charter Member and original member of the founding Board of Directors for the Raleigh Racquet Club in 1968. He was a scoutmaster to my son. He flew to New York in 1988 to attend my marriage to Karen and he became just as good of a friend to her as he was to me. In 1998, John encouraged me to return to Raleigh and Manning, Fulton & Skinner after a 17-year absence during which I had pursued an interim new career in professional tennis administration and sports law in New York.

Upon my return to Raleigh in 1998, John also became my Landlord as he allowed me to rent his famous cabin in the woods for a few years before we found a house in Raleigh.

We moved to Florida in 2005 and I lost my daily contact with John. However, as John went through his fight with cancer, he gratuitously kept me up to date with his diagnoses and treatment since I was in Florida and could not see him regularly. When I spent some time with him last May, he had been ravaged by chemo and yet his mind was sharp and his attitude was positive as it always was.

On last December 15, I sat with John at Charlie Fulton's memorial service and he was in good spirits, had begun to regrow his hair and gain weight and seemed for the first time in 3 years to really be making progress. I remember remarking to John how sad I was that he had been somehow randomly selected to have cancer. In typical fashion, John stated: well something is going to get all of us.

I was surprised and dismayed when his cancer apparently returned this year and took him from us. At least his suffering was ended.

When I learned of the death of Charlie Fulton last December, I mentioned to John that he and I were now the oldest living members of Manning, Fulton & Skinner. Now, I feel quite alone at age 80 in that role.

Dear Angie and all of John's family. I loved my friend John McMillan and I will never forget him. Please accept my sincere condolences for your loss and know that my prayers and Karen's prayers are with you.

Marshall Happer
Venice, Florida
Marshall Happer
February 15, 2019
Marshall Happer
February 13, 2019
John McMillan was a good, caring, honest and generous friend. He enjoyed life and he had a lot to live for.
John was a man of great faith and courage. In the end, John never ran out of living, just time.
Angie, our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Oliver Westbrook
February 12, 2019
Hi Angie, I have fond and loving memories of both you and John as I was growing up. I'm sorry to hear of his passing. You are in our prayers. We love you.
Carolyn Stokes Neill Brown, Andy Brown, Martha Stokes Neill
Carolyn Brown
February 11, 2019
Angie
John was a man of knowledge, strength and great moral values. I am thankful to have known him and seen him lead the way in the conservation of North Carolina's natural resources. I had the pleasure of working with him as a member and as Chair of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and appreciated his counsel and leadership.
John will be deeply missed; however one of his legacies will be his work protecting our natural resources. A legacy that will benefit many generations to come.

Angie, my thoughts and prayers are with you.
Richard Rogers
February 10, 2019
Dear Family and Friends of Mr. John.It saddens me to know that you have lost a loved one. May the God of comfort be with you during this sad time in your life.
John 6:40 a promise from our loving God.


Ute L
February 10, 2019
John & I were friends @ the NC Bar for nearly 50 years. He was an upright man & trustworthy lawyer who will long be remember & missed.
John O'Donnell
INVITE OTHERS TO ADD MEMORIES
Share to let others add their own memories and condolences