RALEIGH — Bill Joslin, a conservationist and big-city lawyer who held fast to his small-town style, died Saturday.
Joslin, 90, had osteoporosis and had been ill for about a year, family members said.
Born in Raleigh in 1920, Joslin grew up in Cameron Park, playing in woods that were later cleared for Cameron Village.
He rose through the ranks of the legal profession, becoming known for his honesty and consistency. As chairman of the state Board of Elections in 1964, he oversaw hearings into voting irregularities in Madison County, which led to the overturned election of political boss Zeno Ponder.
Joslin was a boy when his father, Harold Joslin, died, leaving his mother to raise four children. Joslin graduated from Broughton High School, and then went to the UNC-,Chapel Hill. He majored in chemistry with the idea of becoming a doctor before discovering student government and becoming a protégé of then UNC president Frank Porter Graham.
"He developed this passion for politics, for our system of government and for justice," said Nell Joslin, one of his daughters and former law partner.
He completed a year of law school at Columbia University before enlisting in the Navy during World War II. He spent most of the war in the Pacific on the destroyer USS Massey, searching for Japanese kamikazes and writing to Mary Coker, a Vassar College botany major from Hartsville, S.C., with whom he had fallen in love.
After the war, the couple married and returned to New York so he could finish law school. He was a clerk under U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, and was editor of the Columbia Law Review.
Joslin could have had his pick of jobs at Wall Street law firms, said Martin Brinkley, his longtime friend and fellow Raleigh lawyer. He chose to come back to Raleigh.
Here, Bill and Mary raised six children while Joslin developed a reputation as an old-school lawyer, as comfortable at criminal defense as tax law.
He was Raleigh's assistant city attorney from 1955 to 1960. He then became chairman of the State Board of Elections.
During his time in that role, he oversaw the Ponder hearings. The only time Ponder ran for office, for state Senate in 1964, more people voted in some county precincts than were registered. When questions were raised, all 23 of the county's polling books disappeared.
Each day of the hearings, there was a stack of guns in the lobby outside the hearing room, surrendered by people who had come to watch the proceedings. The board overturned Ponder's election.
Joslin was also a lifelong member of Christ Episcopal Church and held several leadership posts there. In the 1960s, when the church was torn over whether to accept black members. Joslin, as senior warden, pressed the congregation to integrate.
Joslin followed politics and had friends throughout the Democratic party, but never ran for office. He practiced law until 2006.
"He was tenderhearted," said Nell Joslin, who recalls her father taking payments in kind from clients short on cash. There was the woman who always paid for his work on her tax returns with two apple pies, and the farmer who left bushels of corn on the doorstep.
One of Joslin's favorite fields was real estate law, which combined his love of the land with his interest in history. "He knew Wake County like the back of his hand," Brinkley said. "If you really wanted to learn how to search a title in Wake County, he was the best teacher."
Joslin's legal work for developers may have sharpened his sense of urgency about land conservation.
He served as head of the N.C. Nature Conservancy and helped establish the Natural Heritage Trust Fund.
He was on the board of the N.C. Botanical Garden and helped the Triangle Land Conservancy get what is now the Margaret Reid Wildflower Garden in Raleigh.
He and his wife arranged for their 4.5-acre property on West Lake Drive to eventually become a public park.
"I think he saw the future," said Kevin Brice, chief executive of the Triangle Land Conservancy. "He saw a Raleigh or a Triangle that many, many years from now would look differently, where these seemingly common places will become extraordinary."
He is survived by his wife, Mary; children, Ann Killough of Brookline, Mass., Caroline Watson of Greenville, S.C.; David Joslin of Greensboro; Nell Joslin, William Joslin and James Joslin, all of Raleigh; brothers, Devereux Joslin and Hinsdale Joslin of Raleigh; 15 grandchildren; three great-grandchildren.
A memorial service was to be arranged by Brown-Wynne Funeral Home.
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