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Alumna donates lawsuit proceeds to victims of domestic violence

Marci Armstrong (’83), a family lawyer and true Wake Forest mom, drove along U.S. 301 in Smithfield every day with her daughter, Eason. They used the time talk about Eason’s soccer practice and day at school. It was their time to bond. But one day in 2006, the conversation ended abruptly because of a drunk driver.

The man turned into the Armstrongs, on the driver’s side, while he tried to make a left turn into a convenient store. When Marci’s Volvo finally came to a rest, and nobody was hurt, this story of good-hearted charity started.

Marci’s husband, Lamar, called an insurance adjuster, who gave him a lowball estimate on the damages to the Volvo. The Armstrongs took the insurance company to court. Then, when they were awarded $18,625 in mediation, they knew exactly what to do with the money.

They gave it to Harbor Inc., which gives aid to victims of domestic violence and rape, turning another unfortunate case of drunk driving into a positive.

“It wasn’t a matter of money for us,” Marci said. “I’m just grateful that my daughter and I were safe. It was just the principle of the thing.”

Marci was the first chairperson of Harbor Inc., when the organization started 25 years ago. Currently, she’s a board member. Like most charities, Harbor has fallen on difficult times recently, because of the downturn in the economy. The Armstrongs’ gift came when Harbor needed it most. In fact, it was nearly $2,000 larger than the charity raised at its big annual fundraiser, the Harbor Ball, in February.

“We were having some pretty serious financial issues during the recession,” Marci said. “It seemed like the stars sort of lined up. We really had very little money in the bank (at Harbor). It’s just amazing how things just happen at the right time.”

The Armstrongs didn’t want their donation to be publicized. But, because of a few recent controversies in Smithfield regarding law professionals, they decided it would be a good move to allow the local newspaper to run a story, to show the good that lawyers can do.

“Sometimes the only time lawyers get recognized in the media is when they’ve done something wrong,” Marci said. “It can help Harbor and our profession.”

After the accident, Eason graduated from Smithfield-Selma High School and she’s now a sophomore at Wake Forest, continuing a family tradition. The Armstrongs’ middle child, son Hinton, is a senior and will graduate in May. And their oldest, Lamar III, is in his second year at the Wake Forest School of Law.

In a way, Marci said, Wake Forest instilled values in her that led her to take something positive from being hit by a drunk driver.

“I think it’s something that the law school tries to instill in its students, serving those who are less fortunate,” Marci says. “I do think Wake Forest law school has a history of encouraging service and using your skills and your profession to help others.”

– By Michael Graff