At a young age Mike McIntyre decided to dedicate his life and career to public service, and before the age of 40 he had won election to the U.S. House of Representatives representing the (then) 7th Congressional District, in the southeastern corner of the state that included his hometown of Lumberton.
“When I ran for Congress, I had never run for any public office, local or state, before, but through my involvement in my church, civic organizations, my community and my profession, I had built a coalition of support by doing positive things for my hometown,” he said.
McIntyre, a partner at Poyner Spruill of Raleigh, is North Carolina Lawyers Weekly’s 2019 Lawyer of the Year and was recognized at the Leadership in the Law banquet on October 25.
McIntyre, 63, grew up in Lumberton, where his father served on the city council, including as mayor pro tem, and he learned what politics were like locally and how local elected officials enacted measures that affected residents’ everyday lives. He excelled in school and was elected student body president during his senior year at Lumberton High School.
In 1973, as a rising senior in high school, he participated in the student leadership program, Washington Workshops Congressional Seminar. He had never met the two U.S. Senators from North Carolina, so one day on a free afternoon he went up to Capitol Hill to meet them.
McIntyre first visited his local congressman, Charlie Rose, for whom he interned the following year, and then wandered over to the Senate office buildings to meet Senator Sam Ervin. He found Ervin presiding over the Watergate hearings. The experience had a profound effect on McIntyre.
“I was standing in the hearing room when White House Counsel John Dean testified against the President,” he said. “My friends were turned off by that, believing politics were dirty and corrupt, but it had the opposite effect on me. I thought if honest people don’t get involved, then the bad guys would be left to run government.”
McIntyre went on to major in political science as a Morehead Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1978. He received his law degree from the UNC School of Law and while in law school he served as one of North Carolina’s youngest delegates at the 1980 Democratic National Convention.
After law school, McIntyre returned to Lumberton to practice law and start a family. He could have gone anywhere to practice law, but he harbored a desire to help those at home, where his roots run deep along the banks of the Lumber River and where generations of ancestors go back 200 years.
During the 15 years he spent practicing law in Robeson County, he became active in the county bar association, and became committed to increasing citizenship education, both locally and on a broad scale, but recognized teachers didn’t have the resources to tackle this alone. So he enlisted his fellow attorneys to help and started the Citizen Education Committee for the Robeson County Bar Association. He also served on the American Bar Association Citizenship Education Committee and chaired the same committee for the North Carolina Bar Association.
He wrote lesson plans, volunteered in classrooms, chaired the county Bicentennial of the Constitution celebration and chaired a local Law Day Committee. He also became active in youth sports, coaching his two sons’ sports teams, where he enjoyed spending time with kids and teaching them the value of discipline and hard work.
When friends and local officials came to McIntyre to convince him to run for Congress, he saw it as a big risk. He had never run in any election, and his opponent in the local primary was none other than Charlie Rose, his former mentor. He filed for election, and after five months of campaigning Rose announced during the last week of filing that he would not seek another term.
“The field immediately expanded to 13 candidates,” McIntyre said. “But the timing of his resignation put me five months ahead of the others in fundraising.”
McIntyre went on to win the election, and Rose was the first person to visit him in office to congratulate him. McIntyre served in Congress for 18 years and decided to retire in 2015 because redistricting had taken his hometown and 90 percent of his county away from his district. His official archives are housed at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
At Poyner Spruill, McIntyre heads up the firm’s government relations practice. He also devotes his practice to helping rural communities, coastal communities, economic development efforts, and issues affecting the military. He also practices in the areas of energy, the environment and sports law.
He is married to his hometown sweetheart, Dee Strickland, and their two sons, Joshua and Stephen, are attorneys.
Still devoted to service initiatives, McIntyre and former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Willis Whichard participate as mentors in the faith-based McIntyre Whichard Legal Fellows Program at the University of North Carolina School of Law. He is also a fellow at the UNC Institute of Politics, where he teaches a freshman seminar in political science titled “Answering the Call Through Public Service and Community Leadership.”
McIntyre has long believed in surrounding himself with “wise counselors,” he says, and he attributes much of his success to finding opportunities that have lain before him. He continues to live by the philosophy he has followed since early in his career “to be faithful to our calling and to answer the call that God has laid upon our hearts.”