2012 Liberty Bell Award Recipient

Mary H. Howerton, Ph.D.



Mary H. Howerton, the first executive director of the Mecklenburg County Bar (MCB), received the 2012 Liberty Bell Award at the MCB Law Day Luncheon on May 3, 2012.  This annual Award recognizes an individual who has performed community service that has strengthened the American system of freedom under the law. Mary has spent her adult life in service to the Bar, our community and our state.


In the early eighties, the MCB was a hip-pocket organization whose affairs were only as

orderly as the person who served as its president each year. The "office" was a filing cabinet

in a 200 square foot space in the 1927 Law Building on East Trade Street.  In 1984, under the leadership of outgoing and incoming Presidents Francis M. Pinckney III and Ray S. Farris, the Bar membership voted to double its annual dues and begin the search for a full-time executive director. That search quickly focused on Charlotte native, Mary Howerton. When she accepted the Bar's offer of employment, she recalled that the "financial statement" she received was the balance of the Bar's checkbook written on the back of a napkin. Over the next 19 years, she helped lead the Bar into prominence as one of the most creative and innovative local bars in the nation.


Her impact on the organization was almost immediate. She moved the MCB's office from a 200-square foot space on the eighth floor of the Law Building to quarters over five times larger on the first floor; introduced technology to the Bar's operations in an era when most lawyers were just beginning to become acquainted with its use in their own practices; and began attending semiannual meetings of the National Association of Bar Executives to learn how other local bars were handling their growth. 


In her first year, with the assistance of Judge Robert P. Johnston, she completed the creation and publication of a local Bar Handbook and began to publish a regular newsletter. Under her guidance, the Bar established a Silent Partners mentoring program, an active Mecklenburg Bar Foundation, annual Law and Society luncheons, the first a Lawyer Assistance Program in the nation to be offered by a metropolitan bar, a fee arbitration process, a Young Lawyers Division and much more. 


Mary also took a personal interest in the lawyers with whom she came in contact as individuals. Her deep interest and support of Lawyer Assistance efforts was a tremendous asset to the Mecklenburg County Bar.  She guided the local Bar's efforts in the creation of a Lawyer Life Resource Committee which sponsored CLE programs, special education events, support groups and stress management courses in cooperation with a local Charlotte hospital. In 2004, she presented to the Lawyers Assistance Program Board of Directors the results of the research she had done in pursuing her doctoral degree. Her thesis, entitled "The Relationship of Attribution Style, Work Addiction, Perceived Stress and Alcohol Abuse in Lawyers in North Carolina," drew widespread attention to problems faced by lawyers in an increasingly stressful environment, problems of which she had become acutely aware during her tenure.


By the time of her retirement in 2003, she had nurtured the collection of independent professionals in this Bar. An accomplished multitasker, Mary has participated in a mind-boggling 35+ different local, state and national organizations in which she has participated over her lifetime. Throughout all of these associations one sees common threads: physical and mental health, substance abuse, education, women's issues, children's issues, diversity issues and law-related issues. And one sees in all of them an overarching devotion to the common good.