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December 27, 2017

Howard Wesley Dobbins

Howard Wesley Dobbins of Richmond, former president of the Virginia State Bar and of counsel with Williams Mullen, died December 25, 2017. 

Dobbins was the president of the VSB in 1974-75 and served on the bar’s executive committee. He was a chairman of the VSB’s business law section and a member of its board of governors for the senior lawyers section from 1990-94.

A member of the bar since 1946, Dobbins specialized in law related to banks and other financial institutions, including organization and licensing, representation before regulatory and administrative bodies, mergers and acquisitions, and commercial litigation. He lectured frequently on various financial and commercial subjects and had extensive experience as a trial lawyer in all state and federal courts, at both trial and appellate levels.

Dobbins was also well known for his experience in governmental matters and often testified before committees of the Virginia General Assembly in his capacity as general counsel to the Virginia Municipal League.

“Howard Dobbins was a lawyer’s lawyer,” says Calvin Fowler Jr., president and CEO of Williams Mullen. “His knowledge of the law was extensive and his skills covered multiple practice areas. Howard was a leader in the legal profession and was respected and admired by his peers.”

Early in his legal career, Dobbins joined the Richmond firm that eventually became Wallerstein, Goode & Dobbins. In 1986, that firm merged with Williams, Mullen & Christian and took on the name of Williams, Mullen, Christian & Dobbins, and in 1999, another merger led to its current incarnation as Williams Mullen.

Only in 2015 – at the age of 95 – did Dobbins fully retire from the firm.

“Simply put, you would be hard pressed to find a finer person or a finer lawyer than Howard Dobbins,” says Fowler. “We are all better for having had the chance to know and work with Howard.”

Dobbins’ work did not go unnoticed by his peers in his lifetime. He was elected a fellow of the Virginia Law Foundation, the American Bar Foundation, and the American College of Trial Lawyers. He was a permanent member of the Judicial Conference of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. And the Richmond Bar Association honored him with a professionalism award in 1997.

An obituary in the Richmond Times-Dispatch notes Dobbins’ deep repsect for the law and jurisprudence, as well as a playful sense of humor. Asked by a doctor the secret of a long and healthy life, Dobbins answered, “A little Jack Daniels every day,” according to the obituary.

Dobbins was also a member, trustee, and former deacon of Second Baptist Church, a Sunday school teacher, and a member of the Country Club of Virginia and the Commonwealth Club. 

Born June 19, 1919 in Louisville, Kentucky, Dobbins was preceded in death by his parents, Vivian Leon and Katharine Collins Dobbins; his wife of 73 years, Virginia Anne Jones Dobbins, and her brother, L. Clarke Jones Jr.; his brother, Charles William Dobbins; and, his son, Howard W. Dobbins Jr.

He is survived by his daughters, Anne Brasfield (Evans), Leigh Johnson (Craig); his grandchildren, Randall Heilig (Jen), Mollie Heilig Storey (Scott), Howard Dobbins III (Kristin), Carter Crenshaw, Liza Crenshaw; as well as great-grandchildren, Lucy and Daisy Storey, Preston and Charlie Heilig, Camdyn and Kash Dobbins; and beloved nieces and nephews. 

Dobbins graduated from Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va., in 1942 with bachelor of arts and juris doctor degrees. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and Omicron Delta Kappa in the undergraduate school and to Phi Delta Phi and Order of the Coif in law school. Dobbins was elected student body president and served as co-editor-in-chief of the Washington & Lee Law Review. He also enjoyed an accomplished athletic career there, playing basketball and football, and was inducted into its Athletic Hall of Fame.

Dobbins served in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Pacific theaters with the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Updated: Dec 27, 2017

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