BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with Otto Pridgen, October 25, 2002 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Title:
Interview with Otto Pridgen, October 25, 2002
Date:
October 25, 2002
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Pridgen, Otto Interviewer:  Hayes, Sherman / Haas, Michael Date of Interview:  10/25/2002 Series:  Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length:  55 minutes

 

Haas: We are interviewing today Otto K. Pridgen II, Wilmington attorney, 220 Princess Street, Wilmington, North Carolina. I am Mike Haas, an attorney and I am here with Sherman Hayes, the Director of the Library at UNCW and Michael A. Haas, attorney.

Haas: Mr. Pridgen, we might begin by asking some general questions about your early life here in town or your education. Where did you grow up?

Pridgen: I was born here and raised in Sunset Park. Sunset Park was started in the early 20’s and the Depression came along and all construction stopped for about 15 years. But some of the older homes that you see along Carolina Beach Road were rather big, but people who could afford those homes moved to Forest Hills. The houses in Sunset Park are strictly middle class homes, homes with people that generally worked at the Coastline because those were about the only jobs for many years around here.

Once the Depression came along, this economy did not pull out until the war the first… the second World War until 1940. That Depression went on for about 12 years and it was rough, very rough. At any rate, I went to grade school there at Sunset Park Elementary School, Mrs. _____ who was the 6th grade teacher. You see her name on that schoolhouse at Sunset Park. She was also principal. They had the 1st through the 6th grades there. Then of course we had to go to Townsend the 7th and 8th grades. Principal Grice was over there at _______.

Then we had to go to New Hanover High School. That was the biggest high school in North Carolina.

Hayes: So what time was this, when did you start high school?

Pridgen: I started high school in uh… graduated in 1947, so it’d be ’43.

Hayes: That was right in the middle of the war.

Pridgen: Yeah, yeah. Of course by the time I graduated, the war was folding up. Guys were coming back and some of them came back and actually graduated from high school by the time I was graduating because they’d been gone four to five years.

Hayes: Is that right?

Pridgen: Yes.

Hayes: So they came right back in. That must have been very different.

Pridgen: Well it was. Those guys, some of them were 25-26 years of age, they were ten years older, some of them. After that, I went from here immediately to Wake Forest College. Half of the class, the freshman class at Wake Forest where former GI’s of one sort or another, they were members of what was called the 52-20 Club. That was the nickname of the government program that gave them a free education.

Anyhow these fellows, one of my roommates for instance, he was the son of a Baptist minister over in Orange County close to Chapel Hill in that poor section over there where they were all starving I think. Anyhow, he was taken into the Army when he was 18. He never saw his family or his father or any of his family until he was discharged in Camp Butner I believe up here and his daddy came to pick him up and broke out crying. He had fought all the way across…he was in the infantry and he’d fought across France in the hedgerows.

He had a nervous breakdown over there. He was in the hospital in Paris when the Battle of the Bulge got started. They pulled everybody out of the hospital and sent them back to the front lines. This guy could really tell you something about the war. They were right there and he was a chain smoker. He was an alcoholic. His teeth were just as brown as a paper bag smoking cigarettes and his fingers were brown. He must have smoked four or five packs of cigarettes a day and he sweat very heavily. He was old for his time, but he was going to school.

Hayes: Going to college was unusual. I mean today everybody thinks they’re going to go to college, but what was in your family background that prompted you to go on?

Pridgen: Well, I was an only child. There were a lot of only children in the Depression. People just didn't have, I’m sure they did in other places, but around here a lot of only children. Anyhow my father only got about a 6th grade education and my mother about the same degree of education. An uncle of mine had gone to Wake Forest. He was an attorney in Mullins, South Carolina and most of my family are from South Carolina.

My father and my grandfather and my great-grandfather are all Baptist ministers. My father became a Baptist minister at the age of 75 because he had two brothers that were Baptist ministers. Anyhow one of those uncles of mine had graduated from Wake Forest as a minister. I’d always wanted to be a lawyer, why I don’t know, because I had no friends and no relatives and I had never walked inside of a courtroom.

Hayes: So even when you were there as an undergraduate, you were thinking lawyer?

Pridgen: Yeah, I went through a special program that was aimed at getting you through in six years. In those days, six years was a long time to be in college.

Hayes: Still is.

Pridgen: They had a special program. You could go three years with the special courses and that way you could, the fourth year you were admitted to law school and you stayed in law school for three years. At the end of the fourth year, you were given one degree and at the end of the sixth year, you were given the second degree.

Haas: Boy, that’s nice.

Hayes: But what would a normal program be?

Pridgen: Four years.

Hayes: Four and three would be the current pattern.

Pridgen: Yeah, that’s it now. There may be special programs around, but I don’t know of them. Anyway Lonnie Williams was a classmate of mine and we graduated at the same time in 1953. That was the last graduating class in the old campus. The school had been offered 20 million dollars to move the entire Wake Forest campus. There were only about 850 kids at Wake Forest.

Hayes: Counting the law school?

Pridgen: Well in my freshmen class for instance, there were 40 guys. When I graduated, there were 19. There was only one girl in my freshmen class. She was the wife of Dean Campheffner who was the Dean of the School of Architecture at State College. She drove from Raleigh, she lived in Raleigh. She drove to Wake Forest every day, but she graduated.

Anyhow the classmates I had during my time at Wake Forest, over half, were much older. Some of them were 45 to 50 years of age. One of my best friends was a blind fellow. He was working at a cigarette plant, Reynolds Tobacco in Winston-Salem, accidentally lost his eyes in a hunting accident and he had a 9 year old child who led him around the campus. He knew when he lost his eyes, that he had to do something else in life. So he went to Wake Forest Law School and they helped him out by getting him through pretty fast.

Hayes: And did he practice as far as you know later on?

Pridgen: Oh yeah, people that lose their eyes from birth I suppose are adjusted to it, but my friend told me that people who have been sighted and had their eyesight and lost their eyes later in life, went through one of two mental changes. They either immediately went into a period of dark depression that might last an indefinite period of time, sometimes several years or else they did not go into this immediate depression. The depression came out in their life as they lived it. My friend had not been depressed immediately, but he would go into periods of dark depression once every three or four months.

He enjoyed drinking liquor and I enjoyed drinking liquor with him, it was truly a pleasure. But when he got out of law school, he apparently started taking medicine or pills to relieve the depression and he died of an overdose.

Anyhow the guys in the law school in those days, they were older guys. They were more experienced. A lot of them had families and they were…I got my education, about half of it from associating with those guys (laughter).

Hayes: (Laughter) That’s right, well that was good.

Pridgen: They were really top flight guys as far as I’m concerned.

Haas: Any professors at all that you remember?

Pridgen: One of the professors was Dr. Lee. He was a little guy. He was about 5’3” or 4 something like that. He was a total tyrant just like Napoleon. He’d been the dean of the law school for a number of years before I got there, but he resigned as the dean and was just teaching law school. He would scare the living hell out of all of those guys. Some of them would stand up to recite and they couldn’t even speak (laughter). He was really something.

We also had Dr. Lake who later become a candidate for governor and whose son is now in the Supreme Court. Dr. Lake was a professor and he was a fine person, wonderful Christian gentleman. We had some good professors. When I graduated, there were 19 in the class. It went from 40 to 19.

Hayes: And what would you think today of Wake Forest Law School, it’s big right, in comparison?

Pridgen: I understand they’ve got a lot of them up there. I asked one of the professors a couple of years ago in a seminar, why are you all pumping out so many lawyers, you’re flooding the profession and this is not good. He said “well we’re just growing, and they’re going into other states,” they weren’t all coming to North Carolina like we did. In those days when I was there, we had North Carolina teachers and North Carolina students and when you graduated, you stayed in North Carolina. Only one or two were from out of state.

Hayes: So the curriculum was geared to North Carolina law?

Pridgen: It was geared to North Carolina law and it was just aimed at whatever North Carolina’s law was. We’re a little different in some areas. But anyhow that was the way it worked. The dean of law school told us when we were in our senior year, he said, “Boys, I would suggest when you start your practice that you go back to your hometown. It’s always easier there. People know your family and know a little bit about you and you can start a little easier”. But he said, “I want to tell you the three places in North Carolina that you need to avoid. One of them is Asheville, North Carolina.” He said that Claude Love who was an assistant attorney general had a law school in Asheville and Claude Love had flooded Asheville with lawyers”.

Hayes: So he had a little independent law school, kind of like the one here?

Pridgen: Like the one here. And he said the other place was Wilmington. He said there was a law school in Wilmington and he said the guys down here worked at a service station during the day and at night they go around to the Parkson building and fall asleep, it’s warm in there. But anyhow they become lawyers. Then the other place, he said we needed to avoid was Winston-Salem. A lot of lawyers in Winston-Salem.

He said anywhere else in North Carolina is where we needed to go. That was rather depressing because I was coming back to Wilmington. When I got here, I found out that he was telling the truth.

Haas: During law school did you work in the summers for an attorney or anything or do any legal work?

Pridgen: No, I did not during the summers. They were building Riegel Paper Company at that time and I worked there with Serene, the engineers, in building that…Daniel had the contract, but Serene was their in house engineer.

Hayes: Over in Riegelwood?

Pridgen: Yeah, they were building a plant there and that was a lot of fun. But I had no contact with lawyers and courts until I came back here.

Hayes: But then school, you must have had mock trials and things like that.

Pridgen: Very little of that. Law education in some respects is the best education that you can possibly get because it teaches you to focus on the problem. It’s a problem solving education. That’s good. Whatever area you work in, if you can focus on the whatever the problem is. This is the focus in law school, problem solving.

As a practical matter, they did not teach you anything about how the court system worked, about how you would fit in or anything about it. It was a total disconnect. It was pure theory. I had nothing really to guide me when I started practicing law.

Hayes: So did you come back and set up a solo shop or join somebody?

Pridgen: No, when you’re an only child, you don’t need a lot of partners. You’re a world of your own and you’re not afraid to tackle the world or whatever (laughter). You’re your own circus. I did not…I’ve never had any partners, nor have I felt a necessity for one.

Hayes: Interesting. Now that’s probably today considered unusual, not at the time.

Pridgen: Well at the time, of course times have changed because it’s more expensive to operate a one man office. Obviously when you’ve got five guys paying the expenses and you cut it five different ways, they’ve got more money or theoretically they do. Anyhow I never have had any partners. I worked out of another guy’s office for about three years in Colonel Ross McClellan’s office.

I was across the street on the corner where they had the Odd Fellow’s Building, a three story building operated by the Odd Fellows. There were only about eight or ten odd fellows and I don’t think they met more than once a month. It was sort of an imaginary society. I never even met an odd fellow, but they owned the building and all of a sudden they decided they were going to move out and sold the property to the bank.

But we had nothing but lawyers, well almost nothing. There was one justice of the peace in that building, but everybody else. Winfield Smith who was a judge in Recorder’s Court, he was on the first floor. Saul Sternberger and his wife who was the secretary were on the first floor. Addison Hewlett was on the first floor. Lonnie Williams went to work for Addison for a while, for about two years. On the second floor, they were all lawyers too.

Hayes: Well that’s kind of a stellar group. I mean tell us about some of those folks because some of them are graduates of that local law school, right?

Pridgen: Well Bill Rhodes who was on the second floor, he was a graduate of Rogers Law School. Addison had gone to Wake Forest. Winfield was a graduate of Rogers Law School. Saul Sternberger…

Hayes: He was a graduate of that local one too.

Pridgen: I think so. I think Colonel Ross McClellan was a graduate too. Across the street, Jimmy Swayles who was with Jimmy Caw, he was a graduate. Aaron Goldberg was a graduate.

Hayes: You know it’s different times now. There’s no such thing as an independent law school. I mean were these people good in what they did? Did you think you had an advantage going to Wake or were they good lawyers too?

Pridgen: Albert Brown who was next door, Albert was a graduate of Rogers Law School. All these guys were when I got started at 24, these guys were in their 50’s and they were excellent lawyers. There were no bones about the ones that I think were not real lawyers, just dropped out along the way. These guys were excellent lawyers and the only way I learned how to practice law was just watching them. Of course they were very kind and generous. I could always bounce a question off them, they never turned away or refused to tell me what I needed to know.

Hayes: So if you came in ’53, one of the questions we’re interested in is how many were in and what do you call it, the bar?

Pridgen: 49 is the number as far as I can recall.

Hayes: 49, so it was a pretty small group.

Pridgen: Yeah, a lot of those guys were employed, I think it was maybe six or eight were employed by Atlantic Coastline. The Coastline was here at that time and they had a legal department. Part of the 49 were with that. There were several of us, probably four or five, for instance Russell Stone is one of the owners of Stone _____ on the river here. Russell was a lawyer. He graduated from Duke Law School. Russell never practiced law. He was in the ____ business down here.

Hayes: So you’re saying there may have been 30 that were really practicing.

Pridgen: Right, there was a very small number that were actively practicing.

Hayes: And those that were practicing still said to you come on in? They didn't view you as a threat?

Pridgen: (Laughter) That would be the last thing they would think. No, a young lawyer was no threat to those guys (laughter). The practice of law in those days, it was a very thin business, I’ll put it that way. I spent many weeks making $50 and $75 if I made that much. It was only after about five years that I could make a living.

The practice of law was controlled by about three law firms. They had all the clients who were able to pay for legal services. The John Stevens law firm, and there was a son-in-law law firm around here in the CP&L building and they were the two biggest firms. Of course Wallace Murchison had his firm that was getting started at that time. Outside of those three firms, there was not a lot of…maybe a couple more firms.

There was Josh James and his brother Murray. They had an insurance business. Dudley Umpfred, Willis Kellam, his father-in-law, had a tie in with the people of savings and loan. They got all their legal work. In those days it was a closed shop as far as getting any kind of title work. You had to be on what they called the “approved” list. Banks did not make any loans whatsoever on houses.

The real estate, well the construction of houses would never have happened if it was up to the banks. The banks did not lend 10 cents on a house loan. The beginning and the thing that created the savings and loan associations and they started these nickel and dime operations in offices this size – was the fact that people wanted to borrow money to build houses and the banks wouldn’t lend them any money.

So they just started tiny organizations with people putting in $50 and $20 and this kind of thing into this tiny bank. Osden Bellamy for instance had his savings and loan in the office over here at the Odd Fellow’s building. Osden was an old guy, he was one of the one of the aristocratic Bellamy family, Osden was about 80 at the time I started practicing law. He was very eccentric. He would not talk to you face to face. He would always talk to you with his back, he’d look out the window and talk to you. He was also county attorney, but out of his law office, he operated a savings and loan association.

Hayes: Unregulated, you could just have one on your own?

Pridgen: Well I don’t know how much regulation there was, but he had one. Of course most of his borrowers were colored people. Nothing wrong with that, they had to have houses too. But what I’m saying is, coming around to, if when I started I wanted to be a title attorney, I couldn’t be. I couldn’t be a title attorney. I wasn’t approved by the savings and loan.

Mr. Willert’s around here, had his ______ savings and loans, he had about three lawyers that were approved and if you went in there to borrow money, you had to use their in house counsel. They would tell you right up front, “These are our attorneys. Now which of these three do you want to handle this thing for you”. It was a slaughterhouse is what it was.

They had in one corner of the building they had a real estate office. In another corner, they had an insurance office. In the other corner, they had the loan office and it was all in the same pot really. If you wanted to build, say you had a little construction project and you went to the Carolina Savings and Loan, 2nd and Princess, the Fondle family was in charge of that savings and loan. Ellie Fondle…

Hayes: I’m trying to think if there’s still Fondle’s here.

Pridgen: They more or less died away. But anyway if you went in there and said I want to build a $50,000 building out here and would you loan the money. He’d say, sure, who was going to build the building. “Well, I haven’t got anybody yet”. He’d say, well my brother is a contractor here and have you talked to him about this. The best thing for you to do is talk to Louis. “Louis is my brother and he’ll see what you need and then come back and we’ll talk again”.

Of course there was another one who was in the heating and air conditioning business. It was just getting started. And it was a slaughterhouse, that’s what it was. Of course you had to buy your insurance from them. They didn't give you a check when you borrowed money either. You had to bring the bills. If Louis Fondle, their brother, was the contractor, he could bring the bills to them and he’d get the checks. It operated in that way.

The attorneys who were here did not consider that unethical at all. They were just…they had locks on the board so to speak. A young lawyer that just came to town, how could he bother them. He would not. I didn't even get to draw a deed.

Hayes: So what did you work on then? What was your bread and butter that you were to start off with.

Pridgen: Well as I said, there wasn’t any bread and butter. I discovered to my surprise that the people I had known for many years, they were family friends that had encouraged me to go to law school, one of them was owner of a large grocery store. Well it wasn’t large, it was just a grocery store over here in what we called Brooklyn, it was the north side. And his customers were all black.

He’d always say, “Can’t wait for you to get out of law school. I had to send three people down to see Bill Rhodes last week. Soon as you get out, I can keep you busy boy”. Well after I got out of law school, you know how many people he sent to my office? How many do you think?

Hayes: I’m guessing none.

Pridgen: None (laughter). He’d been sending them to Bill Rhode’s office and Bill was still in business. He wasn’t going to quit sending them to Bill. Why do that, he was going fishing with Bill (laughter). So there you go. It was not easy.

Hayes: When did it get better?

Pridgen: In about five years.

Hayes: And what made it better, just reputation or practice?

Pridgen: Well the only way I have a practice is, I never advertised, never spent 10 cents in advertising. In the phone book is as small as the rest of the people in there. It’s no bigger than the smallest guy because it’s a one on one deal. My reputation is built on the last guy I represent and they don’t get out of that door unless they’re taken care of. We operate what would be called a boutique.

We do everything from soup to nuts, but we don’t want to do things like…well I won’t go into what we don’t do, but a lot of things we turn away that are more work than fun, I’ll put it that way. But we handle everything. Of course, we’ve cut down now and we’re doing things that are more or less big deals.

Haas: Do you get involved with estate work at all here in town or is that something you generally don’t get involved with?

Pridgen: My wife is rather intelligent, surprisingly so at times and she is heavily involved in that. I am because of her expertise and work, I have power of attorney for a man who’s a multimillionaire. He’s elderly. I do all his business and it’s just like operating a small business. I have a banker that handles the money and the stock. I have an accountant who handles all the accounting problems. I have to make the decisions as we go along.

We’ve just completed cutting a large tract of timber, it’s been very profitable and we’re working with a timber company. Monday morning, for instance, we’ll meet with our clients who are about to sell a piece of property here for between $900,000 and $1,000,000. They have got a man who wants to buy their property and I want to meet him personally before we make up our minds about this thing. He says he has the money, but we’ll see. So it’s been a slow process, but that’s the only way I know how to do it.

Hayes: So all those years, once you started building a business, you’re doing accidents, divorce, domestic. Did you do criminal work too?

Pridgen: In the beginning, a great deal of criminal work until a few years ago. Criminal work was half of what we did. Many years ago the Supreme Court said that people who have criminal cases have to have lawyers and those who are indigent can get free lawyers. Well that has destroyed the criminal practice. Between 90% and 95% of the criminal practice in superior court is done by appointed counsel.

Hayes: Don’t make as much with appointments, is that the problem?

Pridgen: Well I have stopped doing those for many years, over 30 years ago for the simple reason I was representing people who paid me and at that time they were starting with this appointment business and I found that I was going to be in court with a guy who had paid me and also with a guy that was an indigent, that the court was going to pay my fee. I just did not think it was fair to the guy that was paying to have me working for the guy that’s free because there’s a great deal of unpredictability in criminal work.

There’s the possibility that the man who is riding free could have gotten a better break than the guy who paid me. It was an obvious contradiction in my mind. So I had to choose and I stopped for a lot of other reasons. To begin with, a guy that’s over 25 years of age and doesn’t have a job, an employer that will help him, front him money to take care of a criminal lawyer, if he doesn’t have a job or an employer that cares about him, if he doesn’t have a family that cares about him, if he doesn’t have any friends that care about him, he’s a bum.

Most of the time, bums don’t make good clients. They want a world with a fence around it and the fact that the state of North Carolina is paying my fee doesn’t change the fact that I’m dealing with a bum.

Hayes: I see, just the people you had to deal with you mean.

Pridgen: A lot of them are mental cases. They are unreasonable. They are demanding. They expect the impossible. You cannot please them. Whatever you do, it ain’t enough. Then if you get them out real fast and real easy, well they didn't need you in the first place. That was obvious – you got me out of this mess in three days. I could have got out myself. Human nature is really a mess.

Hayes: So it just wasn’t worth the aggravation.

Pridgen: It wasn’t worth the aggravation to me. It’s been, I think it has destroyed the criminal practice as it used to exist. It’s changed the court system a great deal for the worse.

Hayes: So if you got out of criminal, what was …

Pridgen: The only thing left was civil. We couldn’t represent the Mafia around here. This town’s too poor for the Mafia. They aren’t interested in Wilmington, North Carolina (laughter). They’re up where the money is. Yeah, it’s all civil. During the years, of course, other things have come along to make the civil practice quite different.

The domestic business has turned into sort of a cesspool. Everybody’s more or less their own domestic lawyer. All you have to do is go over there to the clerk’s office and get a free form and get a divorce almost without a lawyer. When I started practicing, everybody had to have a lawyer to get a divorce. Divorces were granted in superior court with a jury.

If you represent a man, put him on the witness stand and if he’d been separated from his wife, in those days you had to be separated for two years. He’d been separated for 10 years. The first thing superior court judge would ask him was if he was married now and the man would say yeah. The judge would say, “You haven’t been living with your wife for 10 years?” “No, sure haven’t”. “And you have children?”

The man would say, “Yeah, I got three kids”. The next question was what was he doing for those three children. “Are you supporting those three children?” Unless that man could satisfy to the superior court judge that he was taking care of those three kids, he didn't get a divorce because he knew the guy probably had a girlfriend out in the audience and that they were going down to Conway to get married (laughter). He wasn’t going to use the court for this kind of mess. The guy didn't need a wife, when he already had one and three children.

The superior court judges in those days had enormous power. They were able to stop the trains from running.

Hayes: Who were some of the superior court judges you worked with?

Pridgen: We had guys, they were all old, they were mean. A lot of them were alcoholics. They were tyrants, but they were characters. They were all Democrats. There wasn’t a Republican superior court judge unless he was up there in the mountains somewhere. I never saw one (laughter). They were a mess. But they were good judges. There were no young ones. It takes years, I mean years to make a good superior court judge. Can’t be taught.

Haas: How about the bar itself in civility between attorneys? Did you get together much?

Pridgen: Oh yeah, we would have a local bar association meeting at least every three months. They had a liquor fund and they would always buy four or five fifths of liquor. A lot of the attorneys were alcoholics as well as the judges. The guys that liked to drink knew what time the liquor was going to be there. If it was going to be there at 5:00, they were sitting there at 5:00 waiting for the booze to show up.

If you were there at 6:00, you didn't get a drink (laughter). They didn't try to transact any business (laughter). Occasionally we tried, but it usually would blow up on them. It was all social. We all knew each other. It was more camaraderie in those days.

Haas: Many women in the bar at that time?

Pridgen: I don’t recall any women at the bar when I got started. Women are something, a recent occurrence.

Hayes: Now do you still belong to the bar?

Pridgen: Oh yeah, you’ve got to belong to the bar if you’re going to practice law. You don’t have any choice (laughter).

Hayes: Now how big is it, 400, 500?

Pridgen: Well they tell me it’s over 350, I don’t know.

Hayes: So it doesn’t meet to do social?

Pridgen: I think at Christmas time they have a gathering. Very little social contact anymore. When I got started, we knew each other and now we don’t know each other, just that simple. There are too many to know each other. You don’t know whether the guy is a probation officer, a parole officer, an insurance adjustor or what he is. You just don’t know.

Haas: How about African American attorneys? Were there any here when you started?

Pridgen: Yeah, there were a couple. There was an attorney by the name of Robert Bond, Robert was a heavy drinker. I think there was one other, I’ve forgotten what his name was.

Haas: Do you have any idea where they went to law school?

Pridgen: I’m sure they went to law school because they couldn’t have gone to Rogers. I’ve never heard of any colored people going to Rogers.

Haas: I wonder about that.

Pridgen: They went to some law school. There weren’t a lot of them. Very few and far between kind of like colored doctors. There weren’t any colored doctors, well Dr. Eaton was here. He’d been here forever. There was one other colored doctor. There were a couple of colored dentists. There weren’t a lot of colored professional people.

Haas: Were you asked to be on other types of boards or get involved in other organizations here in town because you’re an attorney and they wanted to bring you onto the boards?

Pridgen: No, no (laughter). It was pretty much an old boy network, that had a lot to do with it. Of course the _______ organizations were getting along pretty good. Some of the civic clubs only allowed one lawyer. You couldn’t be a member of the Kiwanis Club.

Hayes: I think the Rotary has some limits too. They don’t want to have one group take over.

Pridgen: Right, that was it. There were no great honors to be passed out, let’s put it that way.

Hayes: How long have you been in this particular location? This is a great location.

Pridgen: Well it’s not quite as good as it used to be, but it is a good location. As soon as I started practicing law and was in the other attorneys’ offices, the other attorneys were not interested in having…they all rented their offices. I tried to get Aaron Goldberg interested one time into building a building, to rent an office or join in the finance of whatnot in our own building.

Aaron Goldberg was not interested. He practiced law in a rented office until he died. His interests were stocks. He put all his money into stock. He said he did not want to leave any problems for his widow. The lawyers were in rented offices wherever. But I did not like that idea for one reason or another and I started almost immediately trying to find an office that was for sale. It took about three years before this office…it was a barber shop when I bought it.

The barbers’ chairs were over down kind of the middle here. On this side were benches. There were three barbers in here. Back here were the sinks and all. The barbers had died out and I bought this place from the widow of one of the barbers. His name was Mr. Daniels.

Hayes: What year was that?

Pridgen: That was I’d say about ’57 or ’58. Before it became a barber shop, it was a magistrate office. Over here in the corner was a pot belly stove. What you see there is the cover for a chimney. He burned coal in here and held court in here. This was the magistrate’s office. That was a long time ago of course. But anyhow from that time, this has been…it’s convenient I’ll put it that way.

Hayes: So do you own this whole building up and down?

Pridgen: Just this one building. Albert Brown was next door. Albert bought it from Dudley Umpfred. On the other side was a real estate office. This at one time was a donut shop over here.

Hayes: Now it’s lawyers, lawyers, lawyers, huh? The field of law has changed a lot over time. If someone came to you today and said that they were really interested in the law and they wanted to go into that field, would you encourage them, discourage them? What would you…

Pridgen: I would tell them to not bother.

Hayes: Really.

Pridgen: To begin with, it’s a hands on deal. The practice of law is a hands on deal, to me anyhow. Other than what my wife does in handling estates, I’m involved personally in everything and I know everything that’s going on. To begin with the practice of law is not a very lucrative type thing, particularly when you’re just getting started. It’s more a way of life than I see…I have three daughters who have married men in other ways of life. The financial situation is vastly superior to any lawyers.

Hayes: I think that’s counter to what people think. I guess television indicates that if you’re a lawyer, you’re somehow making lots of money.

Pridgen: Well this is the case I’m sure in larger cities. Lawyers can make a lot more money because clients can pay for it. They have people, the corporations and all that can pay whatever the fee is. That doesn’t happen in Wilmington. The clients around here that can pay a good fee aren’t numerous in Wilmington. One way or other it’s still a middle class town. There are a few enclaves with wealthier people.

Hayes: Thank you very much. That is just what we wanted, really appreciate it.

Pridgen: Sorry to discourage you young guys (laughter).

Repository:
UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Found in:
Randall Library | UNCW Archives and Special Collections | Online Database | Contact Us | Admin Login
Powered by Archon Version 3.21 rev-1
Copyright ©2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign