Each Homecoming we bestow alumni awards to alumni and other PC faithful for their contributions to the College. Brian Barnwell ‘06 is the 2018 Young Alumnus Award recipient. The honor recognizes an alumnus under 40 years of age, as the award year begins, for early competence within the chosen field of endeavor and exceptional promise of future achievement.
Barnwell earned a bachelor’s degree in English from PC, graduating summa cum laude, with honors. Following PC, Barnwell went on to earn his law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law, where he graduated magna cum laude and was an editor for Law Review. He is now a partner at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP.
Barnwell followed in his father’s footsteps by graduating PC en route to become an attorney.
“My father, Buddy Barnwell, who was class of 1964, came from humble beginnings,” Barnwell said. “He took pride in his job and what it allowed him to provide his family and the community. My mother, who was a substitute teacher and taught ballroom dancing and shag classes, was always there to support him and raise the family.
“I liked the way they lived their lives and have tried to emulate it with their guidance.”
In addition to his father, Barnwell’s sister, Erin Richardson ’00 and his grandfather, Charles Barnwell ’36, also graduated from PC.
Barnwell said PC’s English department inspired him to become an attorney and prepared him for a career in law. Barnwell’s advisor was Dr. Lynne Simpson.
“Dr. Simpson is a strong, brilliant woman who brought the written word to life for me” Barnwell said. “She brings a passion into the classroom that will stay with you a lifetime after you graduate. I was lucky to have her.”
Barnwell says he was also fortunate to have professors like Dr. Justin Brent and Robert Stutts, who taught him how to draw connections between college experiences and use them in his writings at the time.
“Dr. Dean Thompson came along my junior year with Southern Literature and gave me an even deeper appreciation for how to have civil conversations on issues that, at times, could be quite difficult,” Barnwell said.
“In all, the English Department was wonderful at making you think about not only the subject matter, but how, and why, you interpreted it the way you did. It encouraged healthy debate on a wide range of topics. Having those types of conversations and experiences with people is something that the legal profession allows me to do every day.”
Barnwell practices business litigation, financial services litigation, insurance coverage and defense, and construction litigation at Nelson Mullins.
This year’s recognition as the 2018 Young Alumnus Award recipient isn’t the first significant honor Barnwell has received in his young career. When then-South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley appointed Barnwell to the South Carolina Ethics Commission in January 2015, he was the youngest ever to be appointed. Barnwell was re-appointed by Governor Henry McMaster in June 2017 and was chosen to be the chairman, which he continues to serve as today.
Barnwell lives out the PC motto, “While we live, we serve,” in his role as an attorney by volunteering with the Wills for Heroes program. The program provides free wills and powers of attorney for first responders and those who serve in the military.
Barnwell works individually with first responders and servicemen at clinics Nelson Mullins hosts throughout the state.
“It’s a small way we can thank them for all the sacrifices they make to keep us safe,” Barnwell said. “I take a lot of personal enjoyment in being able to do so.”
Barnwell and his wife, Mary Ellen, also serve as co-chairs for the Cavalry, which is a young giving society under the Palmetto Health Foundation that raises funds for the immediate needs of cancer centers in the Midlands. They helped found the Cavalry shortly after Mary Ellen’s mother, Mary Bailey Vance Suitt, passed away from ovarian cancer in 2012. “We see the Cavalry as one our most important and direct way for giving back to the community and are thankful for all the wonderful people associated with it.”
Brian and Mary Ellen, live in Eastover, SC, with their son, Ford.
For a list of all of this year’s award recipients, visit the Alumni Awards Recipients page.