Ralph Karpinos announced his retirement as Chapel Hill town attorney in February, after holding the position for over three decades.
Karpinos’ retirement officially took effect Sept. 1 after the Town hired Ann Anderson as his successor. The 35 years he spent as town attorney ranks as the longest of any town or city attorney in North Carolina.
In light of his long-running career and accomplishments, the Town of Chapel Hill presented Karpinos with a key to the city at its Sept. 9 Town Council meeting. The council also honorarily named Sept. 9, 2020 as “Ralph Karpinos Day”.
Karpinos said he was grateful for the gesture.
“I was very honored to have received the key to the city and appreciate the council's recognition so much,” he said. “I was just very touched and honored to hear the comments from all of (the mayor and council members).”
Asked what he plans to do with the key, Karpinos chuckled.
He said as town attorney, working in Chapel Hill was challenging and intellectually stimulating.
“It’s just an amazing, amazing place to work," Karpinos said. "We have such a knowledgeable group of elected officials and citizens and staff. They're always coming up with creative and new ideas and asking questions and challenging us to try to find creative, new approaches to the issues of our town.”
He said he and his colleagues were always trying to find ways to help the community, either by coming up with new ideas or searching for ideas that had been tried in other places.
“Sometimes we're able to implement them," Karpinos said. "Sometimes, because of the legal constraints in North Carolina law, we're not able to do that."
Chapel Hill Town Council member Michael Parker said he was appreciative of Karpinos' service.
"We wanted him to know, in every way that we could, how much we valued him, how much we’ll miss him and how much we're pleased that he's going on to the next phase in his life,” Parker said.
Parker said Karpinos was dedicated to the work.
“Ralph is just a terrific human being, someone who really cared very deeply about Chapel Hill. He always tried to do the best that he could for our town," Parker said.
Over the course of his career, Parker said Karpinos contributed to a lot of the Town's initiatives around social justice, affordable housing and environmental protection. He said anything the council did in those areas has Karpinos' fingerprints on it.
Chapel Hill Legal Services Administrator Carolyn Worsley, who joined the town attorney’s office in May 2013, said over email that Karpinos inspired her professionally. Worsley worked under Karpinos for seven years before his retirement.
“Whenever I’ve been rattled by different viewpoints and passionate emotions flying all around, he can always zero in on the legal question at heart and help me think through the situation based on the law that applies," Worsley said. "So that’s been a big lesson for me personally – in my work and in my life – how gaining clarity can light a path forward."
Worsley also enjoyed Karpinos’ sense of humor, which she said was not always apparent during the many Town Council meetings in which Karpinos advised elected officials.
“But back at the office, he always has a humorous story or joke to share, and he is always kind, respectful and empathetic," Worsley said. "He never makes light of a situation, but his humor helps me lighten up and find joy in even tense situations.”
Worsley is a graduate of UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media and wrote for The Daily Tar Heel as a student. Karpinos is a Duke University alumnus and wrote for the university’s student newspaper, The Duke Chronicle.
But Worsley said they never let their competing allegiances get in the way of working together — even if they had to tread lightly after some basketball games.
Karpinos received his law degree from the University of South Carolina. Before beginning his career with Chapel Hill’s municipal government, Karpinos worked as an assistant city attorney in Winston-Salem.
As a retiree, Karpinos intends to remain a Chapel Hill resident. He and his wife have lived in the same house since they first moved to the area in 1985.
"This is our home,” Karpinos said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.