The Honorable William Erwin Spainhour died September 26, 2020, from complications of a traumatic brain injury, surrounded by his family’s love. To his last days, Erwin lived a vigorous life of faith, integrity, intellectual curiosity, service, and compassion. He was a patriot and devoted son, husband, father, grandfather, and friend.
Erwin is survived by his devoted wife of more than fifty-four years, Jane; their beloved children Richard Andrew, Elizabeth Erwin, and John Edward; cherished daughters-in-law Missy and Heather; adored grandchildren Anna, Caroline, Daniel, and Celia; treasured cousins; and innumerable dear friends.
Erwin was born in Lenoir, North Carolina, to Richard Edward and Mildred Erwin Spainhour, who predeceased him, and reared in Erwin, Tennessee, an area settled by his ancestors prior to statehood. The beauty of the surrounding mountains, rivers, and creeks instilled in him a lifelong love of the outdoors.
Erwin graduated in 1964 from Davidson College, where he studied Economics and was President of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and completed his first year of law school at the University of North Carolina. Due to the escalation of the conflict in Vietnam, he began active duty in 1965 and was stationed primarily at the Pentagon, attaining the rank of Captain.
In 1965, Erwin reconnected with Jane Poston, who was living in Washington, D.C., and whose maternal grandparents had lived next door to his maternal grandparents. They were married on July 30, 1966, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Erwin and Jane remained in Washington for the early years of their marriage.
In 1968, Erwin returned to Chapel Hill with Jane, and he graduated from the University of North Carolina School of Law in 1970. Erwin and Jane then moved to Concord, North Carolina, where he joined the Hartsell, Hartsell & Mills law firm. In 27 years of private practice, Erwin represented varied clients—those ranging from indigent accused persons to large corporate interests—with equal zeal. Erwin particularly excelled as a litigator and relished every opportunity to try a case. In 1997, Governor James B. Hunt appointed Erwin to the Superior Court of North Carolina, and Erwin served as Senior Resident Superior Court Judge for Judicial District 19A until retiring in 2014. Prior to retirement, Erwin served on several three judge panels, including a panel of the State’s Innocence Inquiry Commission that determined two individuals were wrongfully convicted of serious crimes they did not commit. The panel exonerated them and set them free. The Governor granted Erwin the honor of The Order of the Long Leaf Pine for his 17 years of public service as a Judge.
Erwin’s 50 years in Concord were defined by his commitment to his faith, his family, his profession, his state, and his local community. Among his many activities, Erwin served as a current Elder at First Presbyterian Church, to which he was devoted; Boy Scout Troop 3 scoutmaster; Jane’s tireless caregiver; his children’s overall superfan; a corporate and non-profit Board Director; President of the Concord Rotary Club; Stokes Lodge member; President of the Cabarrus County Bar; President of the North Carolina State Bar after 8 years as Councilor; President of the Davidson College Alumni Association and Trustee; President of the UNC School of Law Alumni Association; Chair of the North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission for 18 years; President of the North Carolina Conference of Superior Court Judges; Member of the North Carolina Board of Law Examiners; and chronicler of all things grandchild related.
Among his other achievements and honors, particularly meaningful were Fellow, American College of Trial Lawyers; North Carolina Delegate to the American Bar Association; Friend of the Court award presented by the Chief Justice; a North Carolina Bar Association 2020 Citizen Lawyer Award; Eagle Scout; Silver Beaver Award; and Davidson College Alumni Service Award.
In his life and work, Erwin adhered to the tenets of Micah 6:8 and Matthew 25, revered the Constitution and its aims for a more perfect union, and studied history voraciously and carefully. He was a proud descendant of Pilgrim, Scots-Irish, Swiss Reformed, and Huguenot immigrant ancestors who in difficulty settled wildernesses and formed families.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, a private graveside service at the family cemetery in Erwin, Tennessee, will be followed by a memorial service and celebration of Erwin’s life at First Presbyterian Church, Concord, in 2021 (date to be determined).
The family expresses deepest appreciation to Erwin’s great friend Dr. Douglas G. Kelling for his extraordinary care.
In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to First Presbyterian Church, P.O. Box 789, Concord, NC 28026-0789 or to Davidson College, P.O. Box 7170, Davidson, NC 28035.