James A. Nelson Jr. ’80 receives Order of the Long Leaf Pine for lifelong service

Photo of James A. Nelson '80

Campbell Law alumnus James A. Nelson Jr. ’80 of Greenville has earned the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of North Carolina’s highest civilian honors, in recognition of his achievements and service to the state.

Gov. Roy Cooper issued the award, which was presented to Nelson by N.C. Sen. Don Davis and Rep. Edith Warren in recognition of Nelson’s years of leadership, community spirit and volunteerism at the state and local level. Since 1963, North Carolina’s governors have reserved this high honor for persons who have made significant contributions to the state of North Carolina and their communities through “exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments.” The Order of the Long Leaf Pine has been awarded to other such notables as Andy Griffith, Michael Jordan, Billy Graham and Oprah Winfrey. 

A native of Bethel, North Carolina, Nelson graduated from North Point High School and then attended the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill on a Morehead (now Morehead-Cain) Scholarship, where he majored in chemistry. He lettered in track and field, earning an academic distinction on the All-ACC Honor Roll, and was inducted into the Order of the Old Well, an organization dedicated to honoring students for exemplary service to the university. He then attended Campbell University School of Law where he served on the Campbell Law Observer, a student-run legal journal.  

After graduating from Campbell in 1980, Nelson joined the law firm of Owens & Rouse (now Owens, Nelson, Owens & Murad). He concentrated his practice in real estate law, estate planning and probate, and business law. He was also appointed by the Pitt County Clerk of Court to serve as the public guardian for Pitt County. In this role, he administered the financial affairs of individuals who were incompetent, incapacitated, or who did not have relatives to manage their affairs. Over the years, Nelson mentored countless young people aspiring to enter the legal profession, many of whom worked in his office before becoming attorneys themselves. He retired in 2020 after 40 years of practice.   

Outside of the office, Nelson chaired the Morehead-Cain Scholarship Section Committee for Pitt and Beaufort counties for many years. In his church, St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Greenville, he volunteered as a lay reader, youth group leader, mission trip leader, and as the church and school attorney. He also served on the N.C. Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Health, as a trustee on the Pitt Community College Board, and as one of the founders of the Med-Law Classic, a charity-based basketball game and spectacle supporting children’s health. He also raised money for United Way of Pitt County, a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening education, earnings, and ensuring access to essentials, and volunteered with the Greenville Homeless Shelter (now Community Crossroads).  

Learn more about Nelson and his award from this Daily Reflector article.




Emily Baranowski '22

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