At the age of 60 and following a forty-year career in education and the military, James R. Montgomery ’93 enrolled at The Dickinson School of Law. It was his experience as a nontraditional law student that inspired him, along with Professor Les MacRae, to create the Montgomery and MacRae Award for Nontraditional Students, which financially supports and honors outstanding nontraditional students at the Law School.
“I enjoyed my classes with Professor MacRae,” said Montgomery. “In addition to opening my eyes to the opportunities of estate planning, he gave me encouragement as I slogged through law school. Around the time of graduation he talked about the possibility of endowing an award for nontraditional students that might provide financial encouragement to such individuals.”
The pair continued that discussion and in 2002 endowed the award. They, as well as others, have made regular contributions to the fund since that time. “It is our hope that those who receive funds from this scholarship, and others who believe in the concept, will contribute to this endowment and build it into a helpful scholarship fund,” said Montgomery.
Although the legal profession wasn’t his first career choice, Montgomery said he always had an interest in the law. In 1950, he visited the Office of Admissions at the University of Tennessee Law School. As a rising junior at the university, he could have obtained a B.S. in law within two years, but said he decided to follow another path as a member of the U.S. Army Reserves, from which he retired in 1987 with the rank of major general.
Montgomery, who was honored by the U.S. Army with the Distinguished Service Award, also obtained a Ph.D. in philosophy from Columbia University. For the next thirty years, he engaged in institutional research and planning at the University of Tennessee and later at Virginia Tech University. During that time he authored and co-authored over fifty articles and books in the field of higher education.
When Montgomery started to consider retirement, his wife, Mary, intervened and asked, “If you retire, what are you going to do for the next twenty or thirty years? Remember, your father lived to be 97 and your mother lived into her eighties. Don’t think you are going to sit around here and be underfoot for that amount of time!”
Montgomery took his wife’s advice into consideration. “While I never looked back on that decision some forty years ago to forgo the law, there had remained an interest, and I realized another career late in life could be possible for me,” said Montgomery. “The Dickinson School of Law proved willing to take a nontraditional student, and I grasped the opportunity.”
Montgomery found law school to be both refreshing and challenging and said that many, if not most, performed better than he did in class. “But I had the advantage of extensive experience and the ability, acquired over the years, to sit at a desk for more hours a week and concentrate on the subject at hand. In addition, I was determined to get that coveted degree,” said Montgomery.
Upon graduation, there was never any doubt that Montgomery wanted to practice law in the many small country courthouses of southwest Virginia. “I am asked from time to time ‘When are you going to retire?’” said Montgomery. “Since I came into the legal profession late, I am determined to keep at it until health or mental condition decrees otherwise.”
Today, Montgomery is a partner at The Montgomery Law firm in Blacksburg, Virginia. He works mostly in the areas of estates, wills, trusts, and probate issues. “I still find myself all over the courthouses of the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia,” said Montgomery. “Frequently I am able to help a person or family, and those of you in the profession will understand the satisfaction this brings.”