Local News

Services Scheduled for Late Chief Justice

Posted March 2, 1996

— March 3, 1996, 2 pm EST Funeral services are scheduled Monday in Reidsville for North Carolina's first female Chief Justice, Susie M. Sharp. Judge Sharp died at her Raleigh home March 1, after several years of declining health. She was 88.

She was also the first woman to serve as a state superior court judge and the first woman on the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Judge Sharp's dignity and her command of a courtroom were substantial, despite her petite size. She earned a reputation as one of the court system's legal scholars.

Born in Rocky Mount on July 7, 1907, she was the oldest of seven children. The family moved to Reidsville and it was there she spent most of her life, until appointments to the court system led her to move to Raleigh.

She received an LL.B. degree from UNC law school in 1929, in the days when it was very unusual for women to study law. For the next 20 years, she practiced with her father in the Reidsville law firm of Sharp and Sharp.

In 1949, Gov. Kerr Scott appointed her a special judge of the N.C. Superior Court, which entailed considerable travel to various courtrooms across the state.

In 1962, Gov. Terry Sanford appointed her to the N.C. Supreme Court. She won two statewide elections to keep her seat. In 1974, she was elected Chief Justice.

Judge Sharp said early on she had decided on a career over a family. "Some women may be able to do both," she said, "but I could not."

She had a dry wit, combined with a quiet, deadpan delivery. She once observed that, had she married despite the rigorous travel the special judgeship required, "I am sure my husband would have taken up with a blonde before I had been a week out of Raleigh."

From the time she joined the court in 1962 until the year before her retirement, she wrote more than 600 opinions, not all of them popular. In 1967, she wrote the majority opinion in a 4 - 3 vote that ended hospitals' immunity from lawsuits. She also wrote the majority opinion that set out the criteria whereby college students could vote where they attended school.

She retired as chief justice in 1979, when she reached 72, the mandatory retirement age.

In the 80s, a family tragedy played out in state and national headlines. A namesake niece, Susie Newsom Lynch, Lynch's two children and a nephew of the judge's, Fritz Klenner, all died when a bomb Klenner put in their van exploded on a Greensboro street. Klenner was wanted for the murders of Lynch's former mother-in-law in Kentucky and for the murders of Lynch's parents and grandmother in Winston-Salem.

The tragedy devastated Judge Sharp.

For more than 25 years, she and the jurist who preceded her as chief justice, were devotedly close friends. William H. Bobbitt's wife had died in 1965. Gradually, he and Sharp became virtually inseparable, having breakfast daily at a local restaurant and joining the other justices for lunch daily at a reserved table in the cafeteria of the downtown Hudson-Belk department store.

She and Bobbitt addressed each other as "Judge," shared many interests and many friends. She was one of his regular visitors when he moved to a local nursing home. Bobbitt died at age 91 on Sept. 27, 1992.

Judge Sharp's funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Main Street United Methodist Church in Reidsville. She is survived by her sister Louise Sharp of Reidsville, and by brothers Thomas A. Sharp of Sanibel Island, Florida, and Dr. James V. Sharp of Green Cove Springs, Florida

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