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‘Pillar’ of law community dies

By MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

Andrew Dow (A. Dow) Owens, a man described as a “pillar” of the legal community in Pulaski and the New River Valley, died Wednesday. He was 86. During his lengthy legal career, Owens served in private practice, as a commonwealth’s attorney for Pulaski County, and as a circuit court judge for the 27th Judicial Circuit. “He was a gentleman in every sense of the word. He was smart, loyal and dedicated to his work as a lawyer, prosecutor and circuit court judge,” local attorney and long-time friend, Bob Ingram, said of Owens Thursday. He and Owens first met as law students at Washington and Lee University, where Owens was a year ahead of Ingram. They rekindled their friendship when Ingram returned home to practice law after serving in the military. “I consider him one of the most cherished friends I ever had,” Ingram said. “We owned a golf cart together and played golf together for many years. We always had a good time, but we had even better times off the golf course with our friends.” He had a chance to spend some time with Owens a few weeks ago and they had “a little conversation” even though Owens’ health was failing to the point he couldn’t speak much. Owens was alert and nodded “yes” or shook his head “no” to questions Ingram asked. “We reminisced about a lot of the good times we’ve had in the past,” he said. Ingram said Owens has a “lovely wife and wonderful family” that he considers part of his family, as well. “They’ve all been faithful and stuck by him through difficult days,” he added. “I’m going to miss him dearly,” said Ingram, noting that he is honored to have an opportunity to speak of his friend. Although everyone agrees Owens was known for being particularly tough on drug offenders during his years as a circuit court judge, everyone also agreed he was fair. “He had a reputation for being tougher on drug offenders than others, but he thought drugs were a destructive force in our society and many have to agree with him,” Ingram said. “He was a hard-nosed prosecutor, but he was compassionate and cared for people.” Owens was well-known in Pulaski County and elsewhere and was “well respected and highly regarded by those he was in contact with,” according to Ingram. Current Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Fleenor reiterated many of Ingram’s sentiments. “He was a real southern gentleman and very professional,” Fleenor said of Owens. “He was known as being a tough law-and-order judge. But that’s what we need,” Fleenor continued. “He was very well known to be tough on drug cases, but he was always fair to people and I think, overall, he was an excellent judge.” To emphasize his father’s toughness on drugs, son Andy Owens recalled a story he has been told of his father. He said an offender was dissatisfied with receiving a six-month sentence on a drug conviction in a lower court, so the offender decided to appeal it to Judge Owens in Pulaski County Circuit Court. It didn’t work out too well for the offender, though, because Judge Owens gave the man three years. Fleenor said his fondest memory of Judge Owens was something that happened 21 years ago, on the day Fleenor found out he had passed the bar exam. “I was going to have to wait for six weeks to go to Richmond and be sworn in by the Supreme Court, but I was so anxious to begin practicing law that Gene Nuckols, who was my senior partner at the time, said ‘let’s go over and get Judge Owens to swear you in.,’” Fleenor recalled. “We went over to the Circuit Court and Judge Owens swore me in and as we were leaving, Gene Nuckols told the judge ‘If you have any criminal cases that need a court-appointed lawyer, Mike will be happy to take a look at them and represent somebody,’” he continued. Fleenor said Nuckols took him to the country club to celebrate and when they returned to Pulaski a couple of hours later “the waiting room (of their law firm) was full of people I had been appointed to represent. It was all kinds of cases – drug dealers and sex crimes, thefts; you name it. That’s how I was initiated to the practice of law.” He also recalled another memorable moment with Owens. “I remember we were in the back after court one day – after Halloween – and he was laughing about how he was offering young kids an onion when they came to his door, to see what their reaction would be.” Fleenor never had to struggle to remember Owens’ birth date (Feb. 18, 1926) or age because his (Fleenor’s) oldest daughter and Owens were born exactly 75 years apart. “Her and Dow had that in common, so she would send him a birthday card every year,” Fleenor said. Owens’ secretary of 38 years, Vera Terry, said she and Owens “never had a cross word about anything. We got along perfectly and his family means the world to me, too.” She was Owens’ secretary when he was in private practice, during his years as commonwealth’s attorney and then when he became circuit court judge. Owens was born in Bluestone, W.Va. to Kate Gott Owens and Caudle Clifford Owens. He grew up and attended public school in Pulaski, graduating from Pulaski High School in June 1944. He served as an aviation cadet in the Army Air Force from 1944-46, then in September 1946 began his college education at the St. Helena extension of the College of William and Mary in Norfolk. He later transferred to Roanoke College, graduated and enrolled in the Washington and Lee University School of Law in the fall of 1949. He was editor of the Law Review. In the spring of 1952, he graduated and returned to Pulaski to start his law practice. He served as secretary of the Electoral Board, 1952-58; substitute trial judge (now General District Court) for five years; commonwealth’s attorney, 1964-79; circuit court judge, 1983-1994; and continued as a substitute judge in the circuit court system for several years. Owens also served as Pulaski County attorney, 1964-83, and founded and served as attorney for Pulaski County Industrial Development Authority. He also represented the county’s Public Service Authority, which extended water and sewer service to a large portion of Pulaski County, and New River Waste Water Treatment Authority, comprised of six separate political entities. He was a past member of the Junior Chamber of Commerce and served as president of Pulaski Chamber of Commerce. He was a lifelong member of Pulaski Country Club and Pulaski Elks Lodge, where he was a past exalted ruler. He was also a member of the Pulaski Science Club, serving as chief shrimp taster. Visitation will be held Saturday, 5-7, at Stevens Funeral Home. The funeral will be Sunday, 2 p.m., at First United Methodist Church, with burial to follow at New Dublin Presbyterian Church. In keeping with his wishes, a “Celebration of Life” will be held at Pulaski Country Club following the burial.