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John Garland Mills, III

October 31, 1933 ~ October 3, 2021 (age 87) 87 Years Old


John G. Mills, III, of Wake Forest died in his beloved hometown on Sunday, October 3, 2021 at the age of 87. Born on October 31, 1933, he was the son of the late John G. Mills, Jr and Ethel Turlington of Wake Forest.

The centers of his life were family, Wake Forest, tinkering about with gadgets, aviation, and the sea.

He attended grammar and high school in Wake Forest before talking his dad into sending him to Admiral Farragut Academy in St Petersburg, Florida for his senior year. Returning to North Carolina he was told by his father he could go to college anywhere he wanted as long as it was named Wake Forest so his Bachelor of Science and Juris Doctor degrees were both from Wake Forest University. 

John’s legal specialty was in patents, copyrights and trademarks which provided him with a practice that fed his fascination with how things work. His over fifty year legal career started in Washington DC with the McDowell Law Firm before returning to North Carolina to work as patent counsel for Poyner, Gereghty, Hartsfield and Townsend.  Eventually he left and partnered with Larry Coats in Raleigh before finishing his career with his own Mills Law Firm in Wake Forest. He was the first registered patent attorney in the Eastern District of North Carolina.  In addition to his full-time law practice he taught courses in patent law and intellectual property at both North Carolina State University and Campbell University’s Norman Wiggins School of Law. He was also in demand as a lecturer in his field before civic, scientific, and professional groups. 

His love affair with the sea started early with the Sea Scouts then Boy Scouts of America with which he eventually earned the rank of Eagle Scout. At Farragut Academy he joined the Naval Reserves during the Korean War era and eventually finished his enlistment with a two-year tour at Naval Air Station Pensacola where he tinkered as test flight crew on overhaul sea planes while also earning his private pilot license. 

That love of messing about in boats and airplanes never left him.

John focused his public service on Wake Forest after moving home in the late 1970’s. Those positions included the Board of Directors of the Wake Forest College Birthplace, Downtown Revitalization Committee, a member of the Town Planning Board, and Chairman of the Cemetery Advisory Board. He was also elected as a Town Commissioner and eventually served as Mayor of Wake Forest.

John is survived by his devoted wife of 46 years, Joanna Smith Mills, his sister Suzanne Mills Erskine, his sons, Sergeant First Class (Ret) J. Cameron Mills of Raleigh and his wife Heather; Dr. L. Scott Mills of Missoula, Montana and his wife Lisa; O. Lamon Spainhour of Cary and his wife Sheri; C. Reeves Spainhour of Raleigh and his wife Luanne; Commander, US Coast Guard Reserves (Ret) E. Eric Mills of Raleigh and his wife Tonya; John’s daughter Major General Michelle Mills Rose of Carrsville, Virginia and her husband Barry; his sister in law Melissa Dombalis of Raleigh; along with fourteen grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews. 

In addition to his parents, he is preceded in death by his beloved granddaughter Linnea Rose Mills, and his brothers in law Wayne Erskine and Nick Dombalis

A graveside memorial service celebrating his life will be held at 11 o'clock Tuesday morning October 12, 2021, at the Wake Forest Cemetery with Chaplain Jim Dyer officiating. Due to the fragility of Joanna’s health her doctor has requested everyone remain at a distance.

That means NO hugs and though she’s NOT happy about that we want Joanna around for a long time. 

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be sent to one of the fine organizations below:

The Wake Forest Birthplace Society at the following link noting “John G Mills III”: or to donate by mail, please make checks payable to the Wake Forest College Birthplace Society with “John G. Mills III” on the memo line, and send to the Wake Forest Historical Museum, Executive Director Ed Morris, P.O. Box 494, Wake Forest, NC 27588.

Transitions Lifecare at

Arrangements by Bright Funeral Home in Wake Forest. (919-556-5811)


To send flowers to the family, please visit our floral store.


Memorial Service
October 12, 2021

11:00 AM
Wake Forest Cemetery

Wake Forest, NC


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