The Joseph Branch Excellence in Teaching Award was established in 1985 to honor Wake Forest alumnus Joseph Branch (JD ’38, LLD ’83) upon his retirement from the North Carolina Supreme Court. Recipients are chosen from the School of Law faculty on the basis of outstanding teaching and service to the legal profession.
Joseph Branch was born on July 5, 1915 in Enfield, North Carolina. He entered Wake Forest School of Law in 1935 and passed the bar examination after only two years of coursework. After completing his law degree, Mr. Branch returned to Enfield where he practiced for two years before serving in the Army during World War II. He then resumed practice in Enfield and married Frances Jane Kitchin, niece of Wake Forest President Thurmond Kitchin.
Mr. Branch was a very talented and publically-engaged attorney. While in practice he represented numerous businesses and estates and also handled many criminal cases in Superior and County courts. He was chair of the Halifax County Democratic Executive Committee and a Representative in the State House of North Carolina from 1947 through 1954. In 1964, he managed the successful gubernatorial election campaign of Dan K. Moore. Then in 1966 Mr. Branch filled a vacancy in the North Carolina Supreme Court where he remained as an associate justice and later chief justice until his retirement in 1986.
Throughout his long and distinguished career, Mr. Branch remained closely connected with Wake Forest University. He served numerous terms on the Board of Trustees as a member, chair, and ultimately a Lifetime Trustee. In 1983 the University recognized him with an honorary Doctorate of Laws. Mr. Branch was the recipient of numerous other awards, including the North Carolina Bar Association’s Judge John J. Parker Award, “In recognition of Conspicuous Service to the Cause of Jurisprudence in North Carolina.” He also received the Outstanding Appellate Judge Award from the N.C. Academy of Trial Lawyers and the Citation for Distinguished Public Service from the North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry.
Mr. Branch died on February 18, 1991.
For more information about Mr. Branch, please visit the North Carolina Court System. Special thanks to the NC Court System for their assistance in compiling this information.