Alumni Profile: Sarah Wesley Fox (’83) credits Wake Forest with shaping her career, family

Wake Forest Law is where Sarah Wesley Fox (’83) received her introduction to her career-shaping passion for employment law. It’s also where she met her husband, Craig Wheaton (’81) and one of her life-long best friends, Marci Armstrong (’83), during her first week of law school. That might have been enough to make her grateful for her Wake Forest experiences, but recently Fox hit another lifetime highlight when she traveled to Washington, D.C., in May 2014 with Wheaton and 18 other alumni to be sworn in as part of a group admission to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States.

“I’ve been practicing law for 30 years, and to have an opportunity to do something so reaffirming and so different from what I do in my day-to-day practice, was in so many ways a continuum of that lifelong opportunity that Wake Forest provides,” she said. “I would do it a million times if I could. It’s really hard to explain how eye-opening and motivating and awe-inspiring it was to be there in the Court with all the Justices before you, and you are part of the business before the Court.”

The trip included breakfast in the Supreme Court Building. Following the swearing-in ceremony, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke with the group and shared thoughts that resonated with Fox.

“The Chief Justice said, ‘Don’t forget what it took to get here and all the people that helped you get here,’ ” she said. “His words puts our careers and that day in perspective — that you’re only here because others have taken the time to mentor you, educate you, encourage you. It’s a great message to remember for everyone who is fortunate to have a career in law.”

Fox practices with Smith Anderson, concentrating in employment law.  She is a member of the Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference, excited to now say she is admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court and active in multiple community organizations, including having served as Chair of the Foundation of Hope, President of Capital Area Preservation, President of the Junior League of Raleigh, President of the Badger Iredell Foundation and served on the executive committees of the NC Museum of History Associates, SAFEchild and Ravenscroft.  She is serving on Wake Forest Law’s Board of Visitors and was host of the recent Summer Leadership Conference.

This fall her daughter, Sarah Wesley Wheaton (’17), entered the Wake Forest Law. Her choice makes both Fox and Wheaton happy.

“It was a great experience for us and we think it will be a great opportunity for her,” Fox said. “I believe Sarah Wesley realizes that, because of our education, we’ve been happy in our opportunities and our work. That fulfillment plays over in all aspects of your life – your work, your family life and your friendships.”

Fox came to Wake Forest with a degree from Tulane University, a love of American history and an admiration for fictional lawyer, Atticus Finch. In fact, her first jury argument was inspired by the trial in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“There’s a way that Wake Forest educates its law students that is so exceptional,” she said. “The school teaches how to best approach the law, how to serve clients on a lifelong basis, how to serve the community and it creates great bonds. I feel like the professors know every student in the school.”

Although Fox describes herself as a blank slate when she arrived on campus, she quickly found her niche in the developing field of employment law, through classes with Professor Wilson Parker.

“When you think about it, the most important part of your life besides your family is your job,” she said. “Your work, day in and day out, impacts who you are and how you live. I also was drawn to employment law because not only was it about people, but it also involved the intricacies of state law and federal law.”

Professor Parker hired Fox after her second year in law school to help with research on a textbook he was writing on the subject.

After graduation, Fox had a clerkship with the Honorable Robert D. Potter, Chief Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. There she found herself working on many of his civil cases, including employment matters. His nurturing, coupled with the exposure to great trial attorneys and interesting cases helped confirm the area she wanted to concentrate her practice.

Holding down a busy law practice and raising a family can tend to fragment alumni ties, Fox said, but it’s worth pausing once in a while to consider your law school experience – the students, the faculty, the hard work, the fun and how an enjoyable law school experience can shape one’s life in so many incredible ways.

“When I look at my classmates, so many have gone on to do great things,” she said. “We can’t all be  Supreme Court justices, but we have all done our best to make a difference.  We take care of our families, we support others  and we do the best we can to contribute to our community.  The law school had a wonderful way it approached our education and I don’t think that’s changed since I was there 30 years ago. It still think Wake is blessed with these incredibly smart and compassionate teachers, and creates a uniquely caring environment in which to educate people.”