Attorney still practicing law after 69 years
Tom Fedor/The Gazette
W. Jerome Offutt likes to say that time and knowledge is his stock and trade.
Sixty-nine years after he opened his first law office in downtown Frederick, Offutt is not ready to trade in his stock.
At 91 years old, he puts on a suit and tie and drives to work to meet clients by 9:30 a.m. at his practice on West Second Street — after he walks a mile with his dog. He'll walk another mile near his home at Buckingham's Choice when his day ends.
Working hard is nothing new to Offutt, the son of dairy farmers in Montgomery County, who grew up riding a horse-drawn buggy to school with his siblings until he had to walk more than four miles to Poolesville High School in the 10th grade.
"It's only four times what I do now in the morning and evening," Offutt said good-naturedly.
Offutt, with a pleasant manner and strong handshake, sat at a polished table inside his law library on Monday, dressed in a neat, navy suit and tie.
He held photocopied newspaper articles, speeches and notes that he had saved or written throughout the years, and which help him outline the details of his busy professional and civic life in Frederick:
1942: elected as Delegate for a term in the Maryland General Assembly
1951-56: Frederick city attorney
1960-66: member of Frederick city Planning Commission
1970-2008: attorney for The Great Frederick Fair
1986: established The Community Foundation of Frederick County
During these years, Offutt was actively working on major developments in Frederick city and spearheaded a review of Frederick City Code in 1953. As a member of the Planning Commission, he helped lay out the guidelines for the Golden Mile and prevailed in his view for a wider road.
Offutt, who is married to his second wife and has four children, first practiced criminal law, then tax, zoning and now estate law. Threaded throughout his nearly seven-decade career are dozens of memberships and affiliations with legal, civic and conservation groups, including Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, Goodwill Industries of Monocacy Valley, Rotary Club of Frederick and Catoctin Fish and Game Protective Association.
According to George T. Horman, a law partner at Offutt, Horman & Burdette, P.A., his mentor sets the standards for himself and the community.
Horman said Offutt doesn't ask him to do anything he wouldn't do himself.
"He has clients. It's like he hasn't stopped, and hopefully he doesn't stop," he said. "I'd like to see him continue as long as he wants to."
Anne-Herbert Rollins, a member of the Bar Association of Frederick County, said Offutt takes seriously his professionalism and civility and is still active in the association. Nearly four years ago, the bar association created an award for professionalism and civility in Offutt's honor. He was the award's first recipient. "In my 20 years practicing law here in Frederick County … Jerry has always been what I call a true gentleman,'," Rollins said.
Offutt doesn't advertise his legal services on television or in the newspaper and relies on his reputation.
"I just think that the quality of your professional work should be all the advertising you need," he said. "If you can't attract enough work by the referrals of your clientele, I think you're in trouble."
A family's wish
Becoming an attorney was his parents' wish, Offutt said. As the second of eight children, "my mother thought that one of us should do something other than farming," Offutt said, so he was chosen to be a lawyer.
During The Great Depression, Offutt helped put himself through law school at Columbus University School of Law in Washington D.C. by working from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. for $11 a week for Safeway. He attended school at night, which he said left him with only 30 minutes to run home after work, change and go to class.
"It wasn't easy, but I was used to hard work on the farm, so it wasn't any different," he said.
Offutt graduated with a bachelor's in law in 1937, when he was only 19 and three years out of high school — a fact he attributes to being one of the last classes in Montgomery County to graduate high school after 11 grades.
Offutt was two years shy of the age requirement to pass the Maryland bar exam, so he took a job working for the late David C. Weinbrenner III.
Much of his family's trade and goods came from Frederick, Offutt said, so the city was a natural choice for him to start his career once he was admitted to the bar at the age of 21. He later earned a Juris Doctorate Degree in 1964 from Columbus Law School of Catholic University of America.
"Your parents influenced you a lot in those days and it was the choice of our father that I practiced in Frederick," he added.
E-mail Katherine Mullen at email@example.com.