After practicing law with W. Jerome Offutt for over 40 years, one thing stood out to law partner Tim Horman: He never saw him upset.
“I had a lot of respect for Mr. Offutt,” Horman said. “He was the type of person that wouldn’t ask you to do anything that he wouldn’t do ... and he had his community at heart.”
Offutt, nicknamed Jerry, died June 23 at Summit Place in Little River, South Carolina. He was 100. With over 75 years in practice, he was likely the longest-serving lawyer in Frederick County history, his colleagues said.
Though Offutt stopped practicing law full time four years ago, he still made occasional appearances at his law firm, Offutt, Horman, Burdette & May, to talk with former co-workers and clients about their work and well-being, according to Horman.
“He always came in and sat down and wanted to know what was going on in the office and how everybody was, and the clients and so forth. His whole life, he was dedicated to the practice of law,” Horman said.
Offutt is survived by his four children and their spouses, 10 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandson.
His son, William J. Offutt Jr., lives in Frederick and owns Fox’s Sport and Bait. His father wanted him to enter the law field, but William said the years he spent hunting and fishing with his father encouraged him to open the store on South Market Street.
“Dad said, ‘You are to become an attorney.’” I said, ‘Yeah, but there’s a problem. You taught me trapping, you taught me taxidermy. You taught me to be a hunter and fisherman. And I enjoy hunting and fishing more.’”
William’s daughter, Laura, said her grandfather was a source of wisdom throughout her life, often answering her childhood questions. He taught Laura how to hunt at age 6, when she shot her first rabbit, she said.
“My father was my ego and so was my grandfather,” Laura said. “... He taught me things that he learned from him being a lawyer ... and I learned from the best how to shoot a recurve bow.”
Offutt, who grew up on a farm near Poolesville, graduated from Poolesville High at 16. Just two years later, he received a law degree from Columbus University in Washington, D.C.
Too young to practice law in Maryland, Offutt worked as a paralegal for David C. Winebrenner of Winebrenner and Sinn before he was admitted to the bar on Feb. 3, 1940, at age 21. Three years later, Offutt was elected to the General Assembly in Maryland and served on the Judiciary and other major committees while in the House of Delegates.
Donald Linton, who along with Offutt and Charles V. Main founded The Community Foundation of Frederick County, which provides education scholarships for underprivileged children in Frederick County, called Offutt the perfect person for young attorneys to model themselves after. After returning to Frederick in 1962, Linton opened a public accounting practice and worked closely with Offutt for the next 45 years.
“He’s involved in everything. Helping people, no matter what kind of help they needed. He was the perfect prospect if you were trying to put something together new,” Linton said.
In both his professional and personal life, Offutt held many leadership positions. He served as Frederick City Attorney from 1951 until 1956. He also served as president of the Frederick County Bar Association for one year and as vice president of the Maryland State Bar Association. Offutt also acted as an attorney to the Board of Elections in Frederick County from 1947 to 1971.
A Rotarian since 1974, Offutt was once the president of the Rotary Club of Frederick. He also held positions in sportsman clubs, including The Brotherhood of the Jungle Cock Inc., Catoctin Fish and Game Protective Association and the Tuscarora Gun Club.
Betsy Day, president and CEO of the Community Foundation, said Offutt’s longevity and warm character made him a standout in his field.
“Jerry was a quiet man with great warmth and keen insight to what was happening in the community and how best to serve our donors,” Day said. “His legacy of professionalism and caring for his community will long be remembered with great fondness.”