Retired former partner, George R. Aldhizer, Jr., died on Saturday, September 19, 2015 at the age of 84.
HARRISONBURG — Bill O’Brien laughed Monday as he remembered an exchange from years ago when the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors was discussing a “thorny” issue in closed session.
The late Jennings Morris, one of the supervisors, asked George Aldhizer Jr. a question and received the county attorney’s “forthright” response.
“[Morris] said, ‘Mr. Attorney, I don’t particularly like that answer,’ O’Brien, then the county administrator, recalled. “And George said, ‘Mr. Supervisor, I didn’t particularly like that question, and if you’ll withdraw the question, I’ll withdraw the answer.’”
Colleagues and friends on Monday remembered Aldhizer as a detail-oriented attorney who was adept at finding solutions to problems rather than relying on the courts to settle disputes.
The retired former partner with Wharton Aldhizer & Weaver died Saturday at his farm in Rockingham County at the age of 84. A memorial service is set for 3 p.m. Saturday at Emmanuel Episcopal Church.
Don Showalter, who joined WAW in 1965 and remains with the firm, fondly remembered the way his mentor and friend practiced law.
“He was the quintessential Virginia lawyer,” said Showalter, 74, who became the firm’s fifth attorney when he was hired 50 years ago. “He was gracious, collegial, didn’t show anger toward his opponents, and he tried to work out difficult matters without litigation, and for the most part he was very successful at it.”
Player Behind Scenes
Aldhizer focused on local government, business and estate law during a career with WAW that began in 1958 and ended with his retirement in 2003. He also raised Angus cattle on Maple Leaf Farm.
As the legal counsel for Rockingham National Bank and its successors for more than 40 years, WAW colleague George “Skip” Roberts said Aldhizer was “a critical player in the economic growth of the community.” He helped the bank grow, and it helped finance many local businesses.
Jim Hoover, formerly of S.B. Hoover and Co., said he often handled the accounting end of deals in which Aldhizer was involved. They attended Security and Exchange Commission seminars in Washington, D.C., together to brush up on banking regulations and did a lot of traveling when local hotelier Tommy Tucker was acquiring properties, especially in Florida.
He also had a profound effect as Rockingham County’s legal adviser from July 1, 1977, until Dec. 31, 2001.
“One of the most successful things he did as our attorney, he kept us out of court,” said O’Brien, who began his 26-year run as county administrator in 1977. “He had the interest of the county at heart. If there was a compromise to be found, he’d find it.”
O’Brien said annexation of county land by Harrisonburg was the key issue of the first six years of his and Aldhizer’s tenures, calling it a “nasty time” in city-county relations. They almost reached a deal but “some personalities” got involved and the case wound up in court.
Rockingham County lost the original case and an appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court, O’Brien said, but Aldhizer helped influence county leaders to put the matter behind them and work with the city on matters that could be handled regionally, such as a jail and landfill.
In the early 1980s, O’Brien said, Aldhizer helped Rockingham County and Bridgewater become the first localities to take advantage of state legislation that allowed “friendly” town-county annexations. The attorney also helped rewrite the county’s zoning ordinance.
“We were on the cutting edge, I think, in setting our ordinance to support the farmer’s right to farm,” he said. “We strengthened that right to farm in our ordinance, and George was a key player, along with a lot of staff members, in making that happen.”
Showalter called Aldhizer “a very intelligent, studious lawyer” who excelled at drafting legal documents.
“I’d draft a document for him,” Showalter said, “and get it back some with rather kind comments that meant, ‘You can do better than this.’”
Roberts joined the firm in 1971 and found Aldhizer’s attention to detail noteworthy, as well as the way he handled people and his vision.
Said Roberts: “I’d have to say he had the skill to step back, look at the big picture and evaluate what he should accomplish for his client.”
Chris Brown learned from Aldhizer when he joined WAW in 1990 and quickly became “sort of a second-string county attorney.” He replaced Aldhizer when he retired as county attorney and now is Harrisonburg’s city attorney.
He remembered poring through volumes of the Code of Virginia in researching an issue and said Aldhizer had “an extraordinary knowledge” of the legal workings of local government.
“He was just a real lion when it came to local government law,” Brown said. “He also gained the trust and confidence of county staff members and the different supervisors over the years.”
Brown once represented the county before the Virginia Supreme Court and remembered having Aldhizer and Glenn Hodge, another WAW attorney, unexpectedly show up in Richmond to provide moral support.
“He was a real magical kind of guy,” Brown said.
Even after retirement, WAW managing partner Humes “Tripp” Franklin said Aldhizer was something the firm “could rely on to draw upon for his depth and his experience, his knowledge of the law and the community.”
Lawyers outside the firm also valued Aldhizer.
David Penrod of Hoover Penrod called Aldhizer “the consummate professional” and an “ethical, dependable” attorney.
“It was always a pleasure to be working for or against George because he was always able to keep his eye on the ball and didn’t get bogged down on unimportant things,” Penrod said. “He was always about solving a problem in as efficient a way as possible.”
Sense Of Community
Friends and family members also made it clear that Aldhizer had fun away from work and did a lot in the community. But his family, daughter Mary Sloat said, isn’t sure how many community organizations he might have helped because he seldom discussed his volunteer work.
They know he was on the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County Free Clinic’s board of directors from 2007 to 2013 and championed veterans’ issues, so they’ve asked that memorial contributions be sent to the clinic or the Wounded Warrior Project.
“He was very committed to helping this community meet the needs of those who are having a rough go of it,” said Keith Gnagey, the clinic’s executive director. “He had a sensitivity for people for whom health care was not available.”
Aldhizer also sang in two barbershop quartets, Sloat said, and was known for his humor. In a statement she prepared with brother George Aldhizer III and sister Carol Delia, she said her father wasn’t above poking fun at himself, and “[e]ven in the hospital, he joked with the nurses and doctors.”
Hoover remembered playing tennis on the court Aldhizer built on his farm. Friends also recalled him reveling in attending Washington Redskins and University of Virginia football games.
Aldhizer probably could have gone to a larger city and made more money, but his family said in their statement that that wasn’t their dad.
“We think he would say that he was fortunate to be raised in a loving family in a beautiful valley with a remarkable sense of community,” she said. “He grew up with a slew of friends, many of whom chose to stay in Harrisonburg.
“Their shared history and community grew along with them. The town provided opportunities for career, family and contributions, all of which were important and all of which fulfilled dad.”
Contact Vic Bradshaw at 574-6279 or firstname.lastname@example.org