Mount Airy resident Otis M. “Bad” Oliver has been somewhat unusual in his professional life due to his reach in both judicial and legislative areas – serving as a judge and in the city government – but on Tuesday he was noted as excellent in both areas …
“He was just a good man,” former Mount Airy Mayor David Rowe said of Oliver, agreeing that this quality is important regardless of the field.
“When I think of Judge Oliver, I just think of him as a gentleman,” said Jody Mitchell, Dobson’s attorney who is president of the Sarri County Bar Association.
“I can’t think of a better word for Judge Oliver than gentleman,” Mitchell said of a former court official who passed away at his home on Monday. Oliver was 83 years old.
“Judge Bud Oliver was one of the best court officials I have ever known,” said David Beale, a former clerk for the Surry County Supreme Court who also served as Chief of Police and Commissioner for Mount Airy.
Oliver is remembered by many for his dedication to criminal justice and city government after graduating from the University of North Carolina Law School at Chapel Hill.
“I would like to go back even further, to the time when I was a real young man,” said Rowe, mentioning that his grandparents lived on Grace Street, next to Oliver.
“And he was a football hero,” Rowe recalls of Oliver, who played for legendary Bears head coach Wallace Shelton before graduating from Mount Airy High School in 1956. “And I idolized him, and he was very kind to me.”
After completing his law degree, Oliver returned to his hometown to work as a lawyer for the next 27 years.
During this time, he also served on the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners for nearly 15 years, spanning two different periods: from December 1969 to December 1973 and from December 1979 to November 1990, when Oliver retired to become a District Court judge.
During his tenure on the council, Oliver has earned a reputation for being extremely analytical and thoughtful in dealing with local issues.
“I knew him when he was a radio station attorney,” said another former Mount Airy mayor, Deborah Cochran, who also had a long local career with WSYD. Cochran recalled that Oliver had an office on Franklin Street.
“He was one of the kindest, gentlest and smartest people I have ever met,” remarked Cochran, who said that the death of a retired judge is a “huge loss” to society.
“I worked with him as an SBI (State Bureau of Investigation) agent when he was practicing law,” said Beale, an association that continued to appear in court. “When he became a district court judge, he was fair, compassionate and kind to everyone.”
Oliver served in this capacity until 1994, when he was appointed Chief Justice of the District Court for the local judicial district, which includes Sarri County.
He retired in January 2007 after 12 years of service when he decided not to run for re-election. During his tenure as Chief Justice of the District Court, Oliver served on the Board of Trustees of the North Carolina District Court Judges Association and was honored with the North Carolina Bar Association Centenary Award for Excellence and Service.
“Oliver for a hundred dollars”
Despite the high position he held in making decisions affecting the lives of those who came to his courtroom, Oliver never allowed himself to swirl it with the attitude: “I’m the judge, get out of the way,” Beale said. …
“Judge Oliver always greeted you by accident when he first saw you,” recalls the former court clerk. “I called him ‘Your Grace,’ and he addressed me with whatever came into his head.”
Other members of the local legal community had a different nickname for Judge Oliver, said Mitchell, president of the local bar association. It was Oliver’s Hundred Dollars, the amount of the fine he often wrote for traffic and other cases he presided over.
“That was what some of us called him,” Mitchell said.
“I have had the pleasure of serving in Judge Bud’s court for years,” City Attorney Hugh Campbell commented on Tuesday.
“As a judge, he was always firm, but fair. Personally, he was a typical southern gentleman – warm, charming, quick-witted, noble – added Campbell. “He had a sparkle in his eye that let you know he was engaged.”
“He had happy sides and serious sides, and that’s what I remember about him,” Beale said of Oliver, but it was all business when the hammer sounded to start the trial.
“He had a pretty strict trial,” Mitchell agreed.
“Person of character”
However, the judge seemed to have a way to go beyond the simple facts of the criminal case to fully appreciate the circumstances surrounding the person charged.
“I felt that Bud was always legally very sympathetic to the cases he was handling,” said Rowe, who also knew Oliver in another area of his life.
“I knew him well from church,” the former mayor said of their long association with the First Baptist of Mount Airy.
This is where another local spent a lot of time with Oliver, a lifelong member of that church, in addition to much earlier.
“I’ve known him all my life — we went to high school together,” said Eleanor Brown, wife of former city councilor Dean Brown. “We went to Sunday school together, too.”
“Wonderful” is the word Mrs Brown used to best describe Bud Oliver: “He was a wonderful judge and a wonderful Christian.”
“He was a very kind person, he loved his family, his community, and he loved the bar,” Mitchell said.
Even after retirement, Oliver continued to attend meetings of the Sarri County Bar Association, which Mitchell says impressed him because Oliver could easily have taken a different path to his golden years.
“It has always been a joy and a privilege to speak to him and will be absolutely missed.”
Oliver recently had health problems. “We really thought he was going to get better,” said Mrs Brown.
Beal expressed his family’s condolences to Oliver and said, “I will miss him very much.”
“I think he was extremely brilliant,” Cochran said, summing up the opinions of many regarding Bud Oliver.
“He was a man of character – a great character.”
“Bada will be rightfully remembered for his many contributions to social life, but he has managed to maintain balance as a devoted husband, father and friend,” said Campbell, the city’s attorney.
“And in that sense, he will be missed the most.”