Former Salisbury city attorney did all he could for his country, home

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, May 14, 2024

SALISBURY — Francis Rivers Lawther Jr. died on May 7 at the age of 81. For 33 years, Lawther was Salisbury’s city attorney who helped usher in the internet to the area and was hands on with the development of downtown before he retired in 2018.

Lawther was born in Charleston in 1942, but moved to Wilmington not long after his father, Major Francis “Slick” Rivers Lawther Sr. of the United States Air Force, lost his life while serving in World War II. Lawther went to New Hanover High School and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1964. Lawther soon found himself following in his father’s footsteps by enlisting in the Air Force and fighting in the Vietnam War, reaching the rank of captain. 

Once he left the military in 1969, Lawther returned to Chapel Hill to attend law school, earning his degree in the summer of 1972. Only a few months later, Lawther joined the Salisbury law firm Woodson, Hudson, Busby & Sayers, which eventually became Woodson, Linn, Ford, Sayers, Lawther, Short, Parrott & Hudson in 1991. It is now known as Woodson, Sayers, Lawther, Short, Parrott & Abramson, LLP on North Main Street. Lawther practiced municipal, estate, corporate and real estate law. He would end up being involved with the firm in some capacity until the end of his life.

It seemed like the longer Lawther lived in Salisbury, the more he felt he needed to contribute in shaping it into the place people know today. Lawther served as the president of the Salisbury-Rowan Symphony Society, the chairman of the Beethoven Division of the United Arts Council Corporate Fund Drive, the president of the Rowan County Bar Association, the board of directors of Rowan County Hospice, the junior warden at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, a member of the board of directors of the Proctor Foundation, and as a volunteer with the United Way. 

Besides being the city attorney of Salisbury, Lawther was also the town attorney of Spencer, showing that his adeptness in law reached across the entire county. 

When he was not working or giving back to the community, Lawther enjoyed playing golf, to the point where he was on the board of directors at the Country Club of Salisbury. 

For all of his years of service, Salisbury bestowed Lawther with the key to the city as a symbol for progressing the city forward. Even after he died, Lawther was committed to thinking about and doing right by others. According to his obituary, Lawther discouraged people from sending flowers, instead he wished for donations to be made to Faithful Friends or Rowan Helping Ministries. 

Graham Corriher worked with Lawther at the Woodson firm before he succeeded him as Salisbury’s city attorney. Corriher said Lawther was an inspiration to him as he was starting out his law career and he will look back on the time they spent together with a sense of admiration.

“Rivers had a tremendous legal mind and an encyclopedic memory of Salisbury and its people. When you practice in the same town for as long as Rivers did, you learn a lot about a place and its people. I remember when my office was next to his, he would often answer my questions by telling stories about the people involved. Most of the time the stories were so interesting I forgot what I had even asked. When I did remember, he always had the answers because he was, plain and simple, a very smart lawyer. But what I most appreciate and respect and will remember about him were those stories and the way he humanized the profession in a way that was — like Rivers — kind, gentle, light,” Corriher said.

Lawther is survived by his wife, Barbara, children, John and Katharine, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.