From pitcher to attorney to minister: Pfeiffer graduate models lifelong learning

By Ken Keuffel
Pfeiffer University

When Robert Lyerly (Class of 1976), an attorney practicing in the Estate, Tax and Business Planning Practice Group of Maynard Nexsen law firm, enrolled at Pfeiffer College, he hoped to pitch for Joe Ferebee, legendary Pfeiffer coach and the winningest baseball coach in North Carolina history.
Lyerly, who originally hailed from Salisbury, had played on successful American Legion teams coached by Ferebee, and he envisioned enjoying similar results at Pfeiffer.
Injuries derailed that plan, but his disappointment over not being able to play ball at Pfeiffer didn’t impede his progress in academics.
“I got involved in and began to really enjoy the classes and got motivated to do well academically,” he said recently from Maynard Nexsen’s Charlotte office.
Lyerly’s focus on his schoolwork paid off. He earned an A.B. degree in accounting at Pfeiffer, taking advantage of the college’s small classes and the extra attention he got from caring professors who challenged him each day.
He was named valedictorian for the senior class, and his high marks helped him secure acceptance into the M.B.A./J.D. dual degree program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. A course he took on business law at Pfeiffer had awakened an interest in pursuing a law degree, even as he worked toward an accounting career. His CPA credential – earned while pursuing his graduate degrees – was put to good use for many years at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he made partner, before pivoting to Maynard Nexsen.
When Lyerly looks back at the seeds that Pfeiffer planted in his life, he judges “a love of learning” to be among the most important. To this day, he calls himself a “lifetime learner.” He says he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“If you work in the areas that I do, you pretty much have to be a lifetime learner because my knowledge from even a year ago is not sufficient,” he said. “I need to continue to learn and stay up to date because the laws always change, and the tax laws are changing.”
One change to which Lyerly is paying a great deal of attention will happen at the end of 2025 and beginning of 2026. That’s when existing estate and gift tax exemption amounts are scheduled to decrease to about $7 million per person or $14 million per married couple. Right now, the amounts are roughly $13.6 million for an individual and $27 million for a married couple.
“We’re working within all that, trying to give clients the best advice we can to minimize taxes,” he said. “A lot of our planning – including estate planning – centers around how you use your exemptions in the most effective way.”
Lyerly’s Pfeiffer-sparked love of learning has extended beyond his workplace into more spiritual realms. He is an active member of First Baptist Church of Charlotte, having, among other things, served as a Deacon and Chairman of the Deacons and led morning Bible studies. He has also chaired the church’s Finance Committee and served as the chairman of a Pastor Search Committee, taught Sunday school, moderated meetings and participated in a medical mission trip to Russia, in the early 1990s.
Several years ago, he felt a call to “prepare and study” academically for deeper involvement in Christian ministry, a process that resulted in him being formally ordained to gospel ministry by Charlotte’s First Baptist Church.
“As Christians, each of us is called to be a minister,” he said. “We’re called to serve the Lord in our individual capacities and in all aspects of our lives, particularly in the Baptist church. You have different roles and different things that you do.
“I thought, ‘If I’m going to be involved in ministry, if I’m going to teach Sunday school, if I’m going to serve in different ways, then I want to have this educational background that will equip me to do this well.’ ”
In the early 1990s, Lyerly enrolled in the Charlotte branch of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He wouldn’t earn a Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell degree until 2018 and was ordained in 2018.
Lyerly called his divinity studies, which took 90 academic hours to complete, “on a par with my law degree, in terms of difficulty.” He spoke of somehow preparing for and participating in classes that were held on Friday evenings and Saturdays even as he went to work each day and met familial obligations, which included raising three children. “It was so difficult,” he said of that time.
About 60 hours into his work at Gordon-Conwell, Lyerly ran out of gas and stopped. Around 2011, shortly after he’d begun working at Nexsen Pruet – now Maynard Nexsen, he felt a new call to “go back and complete the degree” at Gordon-Conwell. He did — even though, initially, there was no record of him having completed a class in Hebrew during his first stint there. Eventually, proof of his having completed the Hebrew class emerged and he avoided the possibility of not passing a written Hebrew exam “purported to be so difficult that Moses wouldn’t be able to pass it.”
Also a participant in a Colson Fellows training program, Lyerly says his Christian faith has influenced his life in a holistic way. While being officially ordained as a minister of the gospel by Charlotte’s First Baptist Church, Lyerly’s ministry service has always been in a voluntary capacity while working at Maynard Nexsen.
“As a follower of Christ, we are all called to share our faith with others,” Lyerly said. “I don’t force-feed it to anybody. But there are different times when it’s very appropriate to share. For me, it’s kind of all encompassing. It’s part of who I am. It’s what I do. It’s just part of what I feel that my life should involve.”