The Wendell lawyer, who said it doesn’t bother him to be called “unorthodox,” loves fly-fishing and spending time with the “best friend” and seven kids.
Q: Those who know you, know about your strong marriage. How did you meet your wife?
“I was in college and I had just received a ‘Dear John’ letter from a lady from back home. I was absolutely furious. I still had the letter in my hand when I stepped on the elevator to go to the 12th floor. When I stepped on the elevator, she (Amy-future wife) was standing there. I said, ‘All women are sisters’ and she responded, ‘No they are not.’ We argued a little bit and that was the first and only argument we have ever had. And as they say, the rest is history. We will soon be married 22 years and that is the only argument we have ever had. That day, I met the most beautiful girl in the world and she was from Knightdale. She is my best friend. I know it sounds cheesy but it’s true.”
Q: So you met your future wife when you stepped on an elevator in your dorm?
“It was a co-ed dorm - Metcalf. We kid that we ‘met’ in ‘Met’calf. Not long after that, I bought a motorcycle and I was run over. It was bad and I was pretty broken up. I was on crutches for a long time. We had just met four months before. She took care of me. She washed my hair. We joke now that maybe she was trying to drown me (laughing). But I convinced her later to marry me and we have seven kids.”
Q: Seven kids! That is quite a large family.
“They are ages 2-20. All of them call me daddy and most of them look like me (laughing). The oldest is Kayla. She is a senior at UNC-Wilmington. She is doing an internship at Disney World and she has gotten us all tickets. We are going this summer. I joke that these free tickets to Disney World are going to cost me $5,000. But that is OK – we are all going because I can’t afford child support (laughing). Then we have Maggie –she is a junior at East Wake High and she is 99percent sugar and one percent ‘oh good Lord.’ Next is Allen Swaim III – we call him AJ and he attends the Young Men’s Leadership Academy. Next is David Martin – we call him Jack because one time he was throwing a fit in a grocery store and we couldn’t calm him down. His grandma told him, ‘Let’s hit the road Jack.’ He thought that was funny and he has been Jack ever since. Next is Virginia Elizabeth and we call her Ginny Beth. After her is Max, and he is definitely a Max and then our youngest, Theodore Montgomery and we call him Teddy. He just makes the whole equation. He rounds out our family. And we moved back to North Carolina from Virginia for one pregnancy because where we were living in Virginia, there was not a hospital.”
Q: Why did you move to Virginia?
“When I graduated from Eastern Randolph High School, I went to N.C. State University to major in mechanical engineering. Well, I got married and got a degree in being a husband. I started a heating and air business, Southern Comfort. We did pretty well and it was a good business, but because of my motorcycle accident, my knees hurt and my back hurt. I looked at my dad (who had also worked in heating and air), and I saw how he moved. I looked at the other guys who did this business and I saw the ailments they had and how they hurt. I went back to NCSU to get my degree in construction engineering and management. I had a professor who suggested I go to law school. I told him I did not know how I could afford it. I was married and I had kids. I was working and going to school at the same time. I got a scholarship to attend a law school in Virginia. It was great. We were driving around one day and we saw this church, Loonie’s Chapel. We laughed. We thought this was the perfect church for us because we were a bunch of loonies. We met some of the best people there and we still have lots of friends there but there is extreme poverty there. The winters can get pretty cold there. It is hard to believe that in 2013 and only a little over 300 miles from here, there are grown men, and kids, who do not have a coat for the winter. For my daughter’s Girl Scout project, we started Coats for the Coal Field and we started collecting coats. We still do it. We collect over 400 coats a year and send them there. While in Virginia, we found out we were expecting again but there was not a nearby hospital so we moved back. I transferred to Duke and got my law degree there. I have been a lawyer since 2006. At first, I was in Raleigh but I moved later to Wendell because I wanted to be near my family. I tell people I transferred from the big shiny building to the small brick building.”
Q: You love to laugh and tell jokes – a vast difference from the straight-faced image of attorneys. Do you hear that a lot?
“I hear that all the time. I even had another attorney refer to me as “unorthodox.” But that is OK – I am down-to-earth and I think people like that.”
Q: Of course, with seven kids and a law practice, you don’t have a lot of free time but if you did, any hobbies you love to indulge in?
“I tell people if I had 30 seconds, I would fly fish in a mud puddle. I love to fish. I tell all of my clients that if I represent you and you serve time, I will take you fishing when you get out. I have had some take me up on that. I have seen grown men cry, saying they really didn’t think I cared enough to teach them to fish or take them. The way I look at it, most are not bad people – they just do dumb things, but we all do dumb things and you have to learn to forgive yourself and move on.”
Correspondent Dena Coward