January 2013

Justice Henry & Shirley Frye


If the term “power couple” existed in the dictionary, a photo of Justice Henry Frye and Shirley Frye would appear alongside the definition.

With similar childhoods growing up on farms in small North Carolina communities and a shared, ingrained passion for helping those less fortunate, it would seem fate that the Fryes found each other. “I’ve always tried to help other people,” said Justice Frye, a former Chief Justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court. “I guess it’s just in my DNA.”

Mrs. Frye agreed, saying, “In doing things for other people, I always got more out of it than I gave.”

The Fryes have touched many lives, he in the North Carolina General Assembly and N.C. Supreme Court, and she in schools and service organizations across the state.

Married for 56 years, the Fryes met at North Carolina A&T University in the early 1950s. Following graduation, Mrs. Frye taught children with special needs for 10 years. “I worked with [these children] to get them to the point of reading and being happy and I just loved to watch the expressions on their faces,” she said. Mrs. Frye also served as president of the Greensboro YWCA, which she describes as a turning point in her career.

Justice Frye, who originally considered a career in dentistry, was elected to the N.C. General Assembly in 1968 as the first African American legislator in the 20th century. He later became the first African American to serve on the North Carolina Supreme Court and to be appointed Chief Justice. “It’s a solemn thing,” Justice Frye said of his many firsts. “As the first person to do something, you don’t want to mess it up.”

Burley Mitchell, Justice Frye’s predecessor as Chief Justice, scoffs at the thought. “He is a treasure to this state,” Mitchell said. “He was always willing to work hard and be judged on his own merit.”

Even after such fulfilling careers, the Fryes continue to contribute to their Greensboro community through volunteer work, endowed professorships at their alma mater, and the Henry and Shirley Frye Summertime Kids Fund. “I’m trying to mentor young people,” Mrs. Frye said. “It’s time for me to back up and allow others to do what I’ve been doing.”