'Citizen Lawyer' Ketner receives a well-deserved award

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 22, 2012

By David Post

Sometimes, you just get lucky. Sometimes, you’re just plain good.
This week, at its annual meeting, the North Carolina Bar Association recognized Glenn Ketner Jr. with its Citizen Lawyer Award.
Glenn is just plain good.
I got lucky.
About 35 years ago, I was sitting at the counter of Peeler’s Bar-B-Q, the lunchtime hangout for the courthouse crowd, and now the Magistrate’s Office on West Liberty Street. Beside me sat Britt Snider who recognized me. My first stroke of luck. Britt, who had come home to Salisbury to practice law with Glenn, had decided to return to the FBI in Washington. He told me to call Glenn.
I didn’t know Glenn, but I knew about his family and the Ketner Center, Salisbury’s first shopping center, which had been built two blocks from where I grew up.
When I finally called Glenn, he told me that one of his law school classmates, Bob Rankin, had just joined him, but he invited me to his office. And offered me a job. Another stroke of luck.
Glenn’s first 10 years as a lawyer created an enviable track record that could have taken him anywhere. After graduating from Duke University’s undergraduate and law schools, he served as a law clerk to U.S. District Court Judges Richardson Preyer and Edwin Stanley in Greensboro and then was judge advocate for the Air Force for three years during the Vietnam War.
A few years later, he served as counsel to the U.S. Senate Constitutional Rights Subcommittee but returned to Salisbury to practice law, months before Watergate exploded onto the national scene.
Instead, riding a resume most young lawyers would ride to the moon, Glenn returned to Salisbury with his wife, Susan, to hang out his shingle. He told me that he spent the first couple of years waiting for the phone to ring, hoping for new clients. It rang a lot.
By the time I showed up six years later in 1978, Glenn was the first person in the office every morning and the last to leave. And usually the only one to return to the office each evening.
At first, I thought his family businesses and foundation — Ketner Center, Rowan Investment Co. and the Ketner Foundation — were burning his midnight oil. Not so. Glenn was president of the Salisbury-Rowan Chamber of Commerce, on the Board of Trustees at Catawba College, president of the Salisbury-Rowan Symphony Society, vice president of the Salisbury Sales and Marketing Executives Association and on the Church Council at St. John’s Lutheran Church.
He had already served for several years on the boards of the Country Club of Salisbury and Rowan Cooperative Christian Ministry.
Maybe Glenn expected me to carry a heavier load from the law practice — which I admittedly didn’t — because shortly after I arrived, he also joined the city of Salisbury Board of Education, the Lenoir-Rhyne College Development Board and became president of the N.C. Judicial District 19C Bar. A few years later, the Salisbury Lion’s Club named Glenn Man of the Year in 1982.
Glenn’s resume could support several partners. He is admitted to practice in federal and state courts, the U.S. Tax Court, the U.S. Court of Military Appeals, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Along the way, Glenn and Susan raised two great boys. I know because my oldest son played with them. Somehow, in my absence from Salisbury for almost 30 years, they became men. And, like their dad, accomplished young men on the move. Bo (Glenn III) is an attorney with one of the largest firms in the nation, handling complex commercial litigation, financial class actions and other high stakes litigation. Bo serves on the Duke University School of Law Alumni Association. After working in the New York city real estate industry for several years, John returned to Salisbury where he has been re-adapting local real estate and former warehouses for use as an art incubator, theater locations, high-tech companies and the headquarters for the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. John, who serves on the boards of Downtown Salisbury Inc. and the Salisbury Tourism and Cultural Development Commission, has won awards for his work redeveloping downtown Salisbury.
Susan is a participant in a wide range of community activities over the years. She is on the board of the Rowan Regional Medical Center Foundation. Glenn’s mother, Addie, is the 101 year old matriarch of the clan.
Glenn has a passion for efficiency and motion. It’s the only way his life can work. The firm I left in High Point in 1978 was still using carbon paper. Glenn was leaping into technology four years before the PC even hit the market and installing one of the first word processors on the market. At that time, it cost almost as much as another person, but it made all of our lives easier. A few months later, the IBM magnetic card typewriter was moved to a desk in a corner, and Glenn installed a second word processor.
Last year, I called Glenn’s office at 9 a.m., assuming he’d have been at his desk for a couple of hours. He wasn’t in. I was told he usually gets to the office around 9:30 or 10. I later teased him about his new lazy streak. He told me he was learning to relax. He explained that he and Susan were taking longer vacations because he had learned that he spent the first few days on shorter vacations thinking about what he had left behind and the last few days thinking about what he had to do when he got back. He was taking his work with him, at least mentally, on vacations. So, with the same sense of purpose in all that he does, he and Susan have learned to take long vacations and have spent months in a dozen countries, including most of Europe, Kenya, the Czech Republic and the Channel Islands.
Even in this more relaxed state, Glenn served on the boards of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, United Way, North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry and is currently on the Board of the N.C. Bar Association, chair of the Senior Lawyers’ Division, the Board of Novant Health, past chair of Rowan Regional Medical Center, a member of the Duke University Law School Board of Visitors and the Duke University Estate Planning Council.
Four years ago, Duke University Law School recognized Glenn with its Charles Rhyne Award, which honors a graduate whose career as a practicing attorney exemplifies the highest standards of professionalism, personal integrity and commitment to education and community service.
When I showed up at Glenn’s office last year — not seeking a job this time — I was first met by his dog or one of the other friendly dogs who come to work with him or his staff. It’s obviously a friendly place to work. The dog allowed me to enter, so I got to see Glenn.
What really hit me, however, was that, though more folks were working at the firm, the same people I had worked with decades ago were still there. I got older, but they weren’t supposed to. Admittedly, they look better than I do, but all of their children — the cute little boys and girls who used to drop by the office — are grown, out of the nest, and have their own families.
Seven years ago, Glenn convinced Jay Dees, now his partner and Rowan County attorney, to leave his practice in Goldsboro and join him in Salisbury. Jay got lucky, too.
The Ketner and Dees website reflects Glenn’s commitment to public service: “The firm emphasizes continuing education and professional development and encourages participation in civic, charitable and professional activities.”
The Bar Association’s Citizen Lawyer Award is relatively new, only 5 years old. A mere handful of lawyers around the state have been awarded this honor. Glenn is the first attorney from Salisbury to receive it. Selecting Glenn was low hanging fruit. That wasn’t luck. He just plain deserves it.
I practiced law with Glenn for five years. As much law as I learned, Glenn also taught me every day by example about character and giving back. I got lucky.
Even with Glenn professing a better understanding of how to relax, I don’t buy it. We meet regularly on men’s tennis night each week. Several months ago, he drove by the courts at 7:30. Some of us were finished for the night, lounging around, talking, drinking a beer. Glenn, who hosts the end-of-season party every year, said, “Sorry I was late. A client called. I’ll get dressed and be right there.”
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David Post is from Salisbury and practiced law with Glenn Ketner for five years.