Greater Pee Dee Business Journal November/December 2011 : Page 29

W hen Phillip Alston Willcox, known as “Mr. P.A.,” began studying law in 1887, he was carrying on the tradition of his father, the probate judge in Marion. More than a century later, that heritage of family and devotion to the practice of law continues at Willcox, Buyck and Williams, P.A. “It’s been going ever since,” Mark Buyck, Jr., chairman of the board of Willcox, Buyck and Williams, P.A, says. “No Greater Legacy: The Centennial History of Willcox, McLeod, Buyck and Williams, 1895 – 1995” was commis-sioned by the firm to celebrate its historic 100 year anniversary. The book, written by historian Roy Talbert, Jr., includes not only a history of the firm, but a detailed accounting of the growth of Florence from its earliest days as a city. Talbert’s extensive research reveals much about the formation of what Buyck calls the oldest continuous law firm in the Pee Dee, as well as the surrounding area’s transition from a railroad hub to one now revital-izing through arts and industry. According to the book, P.A. Will-cox left Marion to come to Florence, then just a new railroad community, at the urging of his partner and mentor, Charles Albert Woods. Willcox created the branch office of Woods and Willcox on Evans Street. Records noted in Talbert’s work indicate that Willcox won two judgments in one day – Nov. 26, 1889 – totaling just over $100. Willcox had formed the branch of the firm just as Florence was emerging as a notable part of the state. “Florence grew from a railroad cross-ing to a railroad center,” Buyck says. P.A. Willcox solidified his reputation as a courtroom advocate in an acclaimed murder trial in 1892. Wealthy brothers William and Charles Barringer were charged in the shooting death of popular railroad machinist Thomas Talbot. The incident occurred in the middle of town, on the corner of Evans and Church Streets, according to the firm’s history. The case was statewide news, and following two trials, Willcox secured an acquittal for the brothers on the grounds of self-defense. The rich heritage started by P.A. Willcox continues through the deep roots of the firm’s family. Left to right: Ed Love, Walker Willcox, Jack Muench, Mark Buyck III, Rob King, Scott Kozacki As Florence grew, so did the firm. P.A. Willcox had left his partnership with Woods and was joined by his cousin, Fred Willcox, in 1895. The new asso-ciation became known as Willcox and Willcox in 1898. Buyck said the firm’s modern day iteration takes its beginnings to heart, providing a copy of the firm’s history to new attorneys and incorporating the experience of P.A. Willcox and those who came after him into their ongoing heritage. “It makes you conscious of the ideals you have to live up to,” Reynolds Williams, the firm’s CEO, says. Even P.A. Willcox’ early role in transportation can be seen in areas of the firm’s practice today. “Mr. P.A. became the solicitor general for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad,” Buyck says. Over the years, the firm has represented interests in transportation, agriculture and healthcare, according to senior partner Hugh Willcox, Jr. “We’ve represented the railroad, the highway department, the airport, banks, the hospital,” he says. P.A. Willcox became such a well known member of the community that following his death in 1922, all banks closed for his funeral and prominent men from across the South attended, according to the firm’s history. The University of South Carolina, where Willcox had served as a trustee, cancelled classes for the day. Following the death of P.A. Willcox, Fred Willcox began a new partnership with A.L. Hardee, forming Willcox and Hardee in 1924. Through various incarnations of the firm throughout the years, family has been a driving force. Fred’s son, Hugh Willcox, was a member and his son, Hugh Willcox, Jr., remains a senior member of the firm. A fourth generation of family members continues the legacy. A look through the firm’s roll of partners and attorneys reveals many notable members of the legal profession in South Carolina: Stokes Houck, Weston Houck, James McLeod and many more. Willcox, Buyck and Williams can count among its ranks judges, bar association presi-dents and many who have achieved the pinnacle of their profession. One member who only achieved notoriety after leaving the firm is Melvin Purvis, who joined the practice in 1925. Purvis left in 1927 to join the FBI, where he became the original “G-Man” and is still remembered as “the man who got” notorious gangster John Dillinger. “Melvin Purvis came to this firm right out of law school,” Buyck says “The story is that he just kind of got bored with practicing law.” | 29 NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2011 GREATER PEE DEE BUSINESS JOURNAL

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