Campbell Law’s outdoor meeting space named for Dean Emerita Melissa Essary

Photo of Melissa Essary and Dean Leonard

RALEIGH — When the pandemic hit, Campbell Law School Dean J. Rich Leonard knew he needed to create more outdoor spaces for his students to gather.

“I realized everything we could do to get our students outside was a benefit. The Class of 2019 made our popular orange rockers their class gift, and I began to eye a useless flower bed in the corner of our parking lot,” he told the crowd gathered on Friday evening for the formal dedication of law school’s new outdoor meeting space.

 “As much as we train lawyers to be advocates and we do it well, and ‘Preponderance’ metaphorically demonstrates that nicely, we also teach here that lawyers are peacemakers. So the theme of this space is ‘Blessed Are the Peacemakers’ and the six sculptures that grace it are not full of random symbols but rather are carefully chosen to reflect our theme.”

Leonard told the crowd of about 50 that a place this significant needed a name. It is officially known as “Essary Place” in honor of Dean Emerita Melissa Essary, who is a beloved professor and consummate counselor of law as well as the trailblazing force behind moving the law school from Campbell University’s Buies Creek home to the state capital a dozen years ago.

“There’s one person here today who is singularly responsible for the law school’s presence in Raleigh,” he said. “But more importantly in the classes she teaches, the friendships she forms, the way she mentors her students, how she brings competing views to a consensus. She’s the ultimate peacemaker. So with the approval of the trustees of Campbell University, our outdoor meeting space will forever be known as “Essary Place,” in honor of our beloved Dean Emerita. Her friends, as you can see from the donor plaque, made this possible. These were the easiest funds I ever raised.”

Essary, who had tears in her eyes, said, “I am really touched that the theme of the space is peacemaking. And I am really happy that it is named Essary Place and not just for me. I could not have accomplished anything that I have done without the support of my family.”

The outdoor meeting space, which was made possible also in part thanks to a generous donation from the law school’s Student Bar Association, is the newest work of public art by renowned sculptor Thomas Sayre, who also created the twin sculptures entitled “Preponderance,” which grace the entrance of the law school’s main entrance off Hillsborough Street. The spires rest atop the red-clay earth castings that were created from Harnett County soil. Since “Preponderance” was installed in March 2020, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Friday also marked the formal dedication of the artwork that is reflective of the law school’s roots as well as its future.

The reflective tops of the outdoor meeting space are each representative of a different symbol of peace from a different culture. One of the delicate tops, for example, features an Asian symbol for the word “peace.” Another features a South American emblem while another reflects the symbol of peace used in Western Africa. Also included in the designs are poppies and olive branches, universal symbols of peace.

Sayre added,I was very happy to hear how important the word counseling was to these students, which led to this idea of, an aspirational idea of, lawyers as peacemakers. And I thought that was a really great thing to express here. So these symbols you see…the symbols are abstracted, some more than others…but they all reflect peace.

“Campbell Law’s gift of public art to the City makes a great addition to the growing downtown Raleigh cityscape.”

The “Preponderance” sculptures were commissioned in 2019as part of the celebration of the 40th anniversary of law school’s first graduating class and the 10th anniversary of the law school’s groundbreaking move from Buies Creek to downtown Raleigh. The installation was the brainchild of Sayre along with  Leonard and art aficionado Kathy Creed, wife of Campbell University President Dr. J. Bradley Creed. “Preponderance” – named after the legal standard of evidence – soasr 22 feet tall (more than three times the height of the average person).

“The origins of some of Raleigh’s most iconic symbols trace back to Thomas Sayre,” Leonard said. “We are beyond proud to partner with his vision and debut another one of his stunning monuments, adding to our city’s vibrant network of works of art for all to enjoy.”

Leonard added, “Conversations with Thomas led to design meetings at his studio with student leaders about what this space might be, what it should be. We went through several iterations of the design before we hit on the spectacular result we have now. My building manager Jim Ranieri joined us for those sessions, and really his tireless and meticulous attention has brought this project to fruition here today.”

Sayre, a sculptor, painter and founding principal of the multi-disciplinary design firm Clearscapes, designs and builds public art projects and private commissions all over the world. Famous locally for his large public sculptures including the Gyre rings at the N.C. Museum of Art, the “Shimmer Wall” at Raleigh Convention Center, the “World Wall” at Marbles Kids Museum and the “Oberlin Rising” project, Sayre has completed more than 50 projects across the country and abroad.  He grew up in Washington, D.C., attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and moved to downtown Raleigh in the early 1990s. A true urban pioneer, Sayre and his late business partner architect, Steve Schuster are credited with the transformation of Raleigh’s Warehouse district into the thriving destination it is today. In 2018, Sayre was inducted into the Raleigh Hall of Fame for lasting contributions to the city. He is also a recipient of the North Carolina Award from the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, the state’s highest civilian honor. He has an honorary doctorate from North Carolina State University.


Since its founding in 1976, Campbell Law has developed lawyers who possess moral conviction, social compassion, and professional competence, and who view the law as a calling to serve others. Among its accolades, the school has been recognized by the American Bar Association (ABA) as having the nation’s top Professionalism Program and by the American Academy of Trial Lawyers for having the nation’s best Trial Advocacy Program. Campbell Law boasts more than 4,700 alumni, who make their home in nearly all 50 states and beyond. In 2021, Campbell Law is celebrating 45 years of graduating legal leaders and 12 years of being located in a state-of-the-art facility in the heart of North Carolina’s Capital City.








Christina Grube and Lisa Snedeker Writers/Photographers

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