You might think this is a time of respite for Tonya Strickland, Marcus Hedgepeth, Chris Dixon and Stephen Terry, given that the certified public accountants have put one tax season behind them in anticipation of another with another year’s filing deadline coming in April.
You might think again.
Life is a busy place in the two-story brick building that’s home to Haigh, Byrd & Lambert, situated between Hay Street and Arsenal Avenue. It’s become a Fayetteville institution, assisting generations of clients with accounting, auditing, assurance, estate planning, and, of course, those state and federal tax filings.
“You don’t see it much these days,” retired partner William Lambert, 80, says about the firm that is celebrating its 75th anniversary. “You usually break up or sell out.”
Not this accounting firm, which evolved in 1948 out of the private practice of the late Phil Haigh. In 1953, he joined with the late Charles vonRosenberg and operated as Haigh and vonRosenberg until 1976, when the late Jesse Byrd and Lambert became partners at the firm that became known as Haigh, vonRosenberg, Byrd & Lambert.
Haigh retired in 1986, Byrd in 2002 and Lambert in 2010, although Lambert still serves a counsel to Strickland, Dixon and Terry. Hedgepeth retired in January of this year, but also serves as counsel to the firm.
The shoulders they stand on
Today, Strickland is the firm’s managing partner.
She has a way that can put any client at ease.
“My sweet grandmother, Mema, always talked about how much she adored the CPA that did the tax returns for her employer, so I had heard about Jesse Byrd for many years,” says Strickland, 56, a 1990 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
She joined the firm in 1991 as a staff accountant. She left briefly to work in 1995 as assistant director of accounting for the Cumberland County Hospital System, but then returned in 1996.
“Once I graduated from college, I was very grateful to interview with the infamous Jesse Byrd,” Strickland says. “Both sides of my family are Fayetteville natives, so it was a wonderful opportunity for me to stay in Fayetteville and start working at a reputable firm. The firm also allowed me the opportunity to do all types of work from bookkeeping, income tax preparation and audits.”
Strickland looks at Byrd and Lambert with admiration and gratefulness.
“Mr. Byrd and Mr. Lambert were both great role models and taught me much more about accounting than I ever learned in college,” she says. “They were both patient and willing to teach the staff whenever possible.”
Byrd was a no-nonsense accountant. One glance at him peering over those executive eyeglasses, and you knew Jesse Byrd meant business. He had high standards and higher expectations for his protégés. Upon his retirement, Byrd turned over his clients over to Strickland and Dixon.
Terry, now 62, joined the firm in 1986.
“For an accounting firm to last for 75 years in a community such as Fayetteville, you have to establish credibility with your client base, which means more than just producing a tax return or financial statement,” says Terry, a 1983 UNC-Pembroke graduate.
Terry worked in finance for a local automobile dealership before joining the firm.
“The client must trust you enough to know that you have their best interest at heart,” he says. “Integrity is one of the cornerstones for any accounting firm and has been one of our core values since Mr. Haigh started the firm. We’re proud that the community in general, and our clients specifically, have trusted us to meet their financial needs for so long. I’ve been blessed to not only have worked for great leadership but to have been able to partner alongside other great leaders.”
A 1995 graduate of N.C. State with a master’s in accounting, Chris Dixon wasted little time in finding work with the firm.
“Coming out of college, I felt that Haigh, Byrd & Lambert gave me the best opportunity to succeed long term,” Dixon, 51, says. “The firm was established and reputable and also offered an opportunity for growth. The firm maintained a large product line — tax prep, audit work, estate planning, pensions, bookkeeping and consulting. It was an opportunity to learn about a lot of different types of accounting in a smaller town setting. Being given the ability to learn and grow and develop was very important to me.”
He, like Strickland, gives credit for much of his success to Byrd.
“Jesse was a mentor and a big influence on my development,” Dixon says. “He taught me that there is more to life than just work. You need to be a well-rounded person. He preached civic responsibility, charitable involvement, family life, religious endeavor and obviously work ethic. And then he worked me to death.”
Jesse Byrd insisted on your best, and never your least.
Marcus Hedgepeth came to the firm in 1979 after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1978.
“When I graduated from college and began my pursuit of a career in accounting and tax work, it was clear that the firm of Haigh & vonRosenberg was the industry leader in Fayetteville,” Hedgepeth, 67, says. “Phil Haigh and Charles vonRosenberg had worked to establish a reputable and reliable business, not only for the quality of the work that was produced but also for the close personal relationships that would be developed with individuals and the partnership with the local individual businesses and government agencies.”
Hedgepeth recalls his job interview with Phil Haigh.
“He stressed the importance of accuracy over speed,” Hedgepeth says. “That the firm’s reputation was based on producing a quality product. I am proud to have been a part of Haigh, Byrd & Lambert. I was blessed to have been tutored and taught by Phil Haigh, Charles vonRosenberg, Jesse Byrd and Bill Lambert. Forty-four years, and I wouldn’t change a single thing.”
From the clients
Neither would longtime clients that would include Frances Morketter, Martha Beck Wood and Dick Gill.
“My mother, Betty Kelly, was a good friend and client of Jesse Byrd’s,” says Francis Morketter, owner of Betty Kelly’s Gift Shop in Haymount. “When she passed away in 2004, Jesse helped me immensely with managing her business and personal estate. He went down to the courthouse with me and so kindly guided me through the process. Don’t think I could have done it without him. He was so patient, generous and kind to me … always. Tonya Strickland took over my account when Jesse retired, and she has always been very kind, understanding and willing to always help and explain things I may not understand. She is also very responsive when I have a question or something comes up, and that means the world to me, too.”
Wood says Dixon is the accountant for her family, and she never has forgotten what William Lambert meant to her late mother.
“Mr. Lambert was such a great, caring next-store neighbor to my mother,” she says.
Gill sings words of praise for Lambert, Byrd and Strickland.
“Bill is my next-door neighbor, and I thought the world of Jesse,” says Gill, who owns Gill Security Systems.
After Byrd’s retirement, he says, Strickland assumed his accounts.
“Tonya is wonderful,” Gill says. “She’s got common sense, book and number sense. She comes from good stock and she goes the extra mile for you.”
And, Gill says, 75 years is a milestone in itself.
‘It’s not just tax season’
Tax season isn’t far off.
It will be a busy time at the firm, but …
“We live a life of deadlines almost every month of the year,” Chris Dixon says. “It’s not just tax season. There is no other way to describe tax season than overwhelming. We work and we work a lot. You learn to take it day by day, week by week and month by month. At the end of the day, what we do for a living creates lifelong relationships with our clients. Knowing that your clients trust you enough to reach out during a life changing moment for advice is both a satisfaction and a reward.”
Terry echoes that the rewards are in being there for the firm’s clients.
“When I entered the profession back in 1986, I was aware of the dynamics of tax season but accepted that challenge head-on. My wife and children will tell you that we celebrate five seasons in our household — spring, summer, fall, winter and tax. My parents instilled a strong work ethic in me, so, taking on the challenge of long hours and looming deadlines is second nature to me.”
Tax season, Strickland says, is a stressful time.
“Being a wife and a mother throws an extra amount of stress into the scenario,” she says. “I prefer to do tax work over any other type of work we do, so I enjoy the work. However, I wish we could spread it out over the year instead of being in such a time crunch. I am blessed to have a lot of family around to help, and an understanding spouse and children. Everyone pitches in at home to help during tax season.”
William Lambert, the partner emeritus, looks on the firm’s 75 years with pride. He gives thought to old partner Jesse Byrd, who died at age 88 on May 13, 2022.
Byrd would have relished in this year of the firm’s Diamond Jubilee.
“He would have wanted to put on the dog,” Lambert says with a touch of humor in remembering his old partner. “And he probably would.”
Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-624-1961.