The N.C. Bar, in conjunction with the Citizen Lawyer Task Force, recently recognized Starling and 11 others as the 2010 recipients of the Citizen Lawyer Award. The presentation was made at the NCBA Annual Meeting in Wilmington.
Established in 2007, the NCBA Citizen Lawyer Award recognizes lawyers who provide exemplary public service to their communities. Honorees include elected and appointed government officials, coaches, mentors and voluntary leaders of non-profit, civic and community organizations.
“The Citizen Lawyer Task Force of the North Carolina Bar Association is extremely pleased to bestow this award upon Lew Starling,” said David Bohm, assistant executive director and staff liaison to the NCBA Citizen Lawyer Task Force. “He and others like him across the state are the reason this award program was established — to recognize the good works and great deeds that are being performed every day by North Carolina lawyers.”
Starling is the managing partner of the Daughtry, Woodard, Lawrence & Starling, where he is in civil litigation practice. The firm has offices in Smithfield and Clinton, where Starling is also in his fifth term as mayor.
“I was very grateful and honored to receive (the Citizen Lawyer Award) and will strive every day to try and be a good citizen and represent the legal profession and help mankind,” said Starling. “I will continue every day to work in that regard.”
Starling has done a thorough job so far, always attending community events and programs and listening to issues relevant to the city's citizens at district meetings and other forums. It is the overall goal, he said, to have a more open and “user-friendly” government.
A lifelong resident of Clinton, Starling said he was motivated to take on the challenge of being mayor by his desire to “improve the town and offer my services and ideas, and to help the place I live not only for me and my family, but for future families.”
Over nearly the last decade, Starling has set out to do just that. The city has placed utilities and wiring underground, torn down dilapidated buildings and partnered with Sampson Community College in the construction of new homes and buildings to be placed at run-down properties purchased by the city for redevelopment.
“I think the town was ready to be cleaned up and made into a more progressive town,” Starling said. “We're making a lot of progress in cleaning it up.”
The third phase of a downtown revitalization project is currently ongoing and looks to build on the success of the previous two. They are large projects and résumé builders for what has been one of Starling’s proudest accomplishments — the All-America City Award.
Given by the National Civic League each year, the AAC award honors 10 communities whose citizens work together to identify and tackle community-wide challenges and achieve uncommon results. Since becoming the mayor of Clinton in 2001, Starling has rallied his community to strive towards winning one of those awards.
“It’s almost like a Nobel Peace Prize for a city,” said Starling, “and we’ve been a finalist for it three times.”
Clinton won the award in 2007. Last year, amid economic turmoil, Starling believed city projects could very well take home the prize again — the belief was so strong he gave the rest of his mayoral salary toward the effort, not wishing to use much needed budget dollars.
While the city did not win the award in 2009, NCBA officials said the projects accomplished have moved Clinton forward in a positive way.
“Lew Starling epitomizes the highest ideals of the Citizen Lawyer through his service to the town of Clinton, both as its mayor and as an ambassador,” said Bohm. “His efforts in regard to the All-America City Award speak volumes about his commitment to the community, because in the end, regardless of whether the award is won, the goal of making Clinton the best it can be is achieved.”
In addition to his many city-related involvements, Starling is a member of the Masonic Lodge, Hiram Lodge #98, the Shrine Club and First Baptist Church. He serves on the the Campbell University Board of Trustees, where he is on the Board of Presidential Advisors, as the Clinton branch of First Citizens Bank board and the Sampson Community College Foundation, where he has served as president.
Starling is a 1987 graduate of Campbell University and a 1990 graduate of the Wake Forest University School of Law.
While humbled by the NCBA’s distinction, the greatest reward the mayor said he receives for civic work comes from “feeling the change” taking place all around him, from the downtown’s makeover and new business and industry to the variety of additional city programs and endeavors that seek to improve Clinton’s quality of life.
Starling said he is proud to receive an award that acknowledges the city’s progress while signifying he his attempts to help others in some way.
“It means to me that I’m also helping my fellow man in the community and trying to help those in need to make life better and to be a better human being,” he remarked. “What’s really wonderful, to me, is when somebody comes back to town after being gone for a while and they tell you, ‘You know, I love this town. I want to come back.’”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 121, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.