Steptoe Professorship of Property Law established at WVU

By The West Virginia Record | Apr 15, 2010

MORGANTOWN -- The Robert M. Steptoe and James D. Steptoe Professorship of Property Law has been established at the College of Law at West Virginia University, made possible by gifts from the Steptoe family.

MORGANTOWN -- The Robert M. Steptoe and James D. Steptoe Professorship of Property Law has been established at the College of Law at West Virginia University, made possible by gifts from the Steptoe family.

"It is a great privilege for the College of Law to be selected by the Steptoe family to establish an endowed professorship in honor of Robert M. Steptoe, father and husband, and James D. Steptoe, son and brother," said WVU College of Law Dean Joyce E. McConnell. "The Steptoe Professorship of Property Law creates a legacy that celebrates the contributions of Robert M. Steptoe and James D. Steptoe to the highest standards in the legal profession.

"Both shared a deep commitment to education, family and community. By creating this Professorship, the Steptoe family forever honors these two beloved family members and contributes to the stature of the College of Law."

The College will host a dedication ceremony in the Marlyn E. Lugar Courtroom in the WVU Law Center at 3 p.m. on April 16. The endowment was made possible through gifts from the Steptoe family including Sarah Virginia Duff Steptoe, Robert M. Steptoe Jr., Sally Steptoe Hazard, and Phillip P. Steptoe.

Robert M. Steptoe was born in Clarksburg, on May 15, 1920, and spent more than 50 years practicing law in Martinsburg, initially as a solo practitioner and assistant prosecuting attorney of Berkeley County. In the early 1950s, he joined with his good friend, Guy R. Avey, Jr., to form the law firm of Avey and Steptoe, in Martinsburg. Several years later, the firm expanded to Charles Town, W.Va., when Steptoe's brother, Thomas W. Steptoe, joined the firm.

Robert Steptoe concentrated his law practice in the areas of banking, real estate, estate planning and administration, and commercial real estate development. In 1990, the Avey and Steptoe law firm merged with the West Virginia statewide law firm of Steptoe and Johnson, which was founded in 1913 by Steptoe's father, Philip Pendleton Steptoe.

Robert Steptoe was a member of The West Virginia State Bar, The West Virginia Bar Association, The Berkeley County Bar Association and the United States Judicial Conference for the Fourth Circuit. In 2003, The West Virginia Bar Association conferred on him its Award of Merit in recognition of a lifetime of distinguished service to the legal profession and the judiciary.

He grew up in Clarksburg, attending local public schools. He received his high school education at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va., and then attended Haverford College and Shepherd College until the outbreak of World War II. Steptoe served in the U.S. Navy from 1941 to 1945 and was commanding officer of two ships in the subchaser class.

In the Atlantic Theater, the ship he commanded was actively involved in the invasions of Sicily, Anzio and southern France. He also commanded a subchaser in the Pacific Theater shortly before the end of the war and left the Navy with the rank of lieutenant commander. Steptoe graduated from the University of Virginia Law School in February 1949.

In 1962, Steptoe was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates, where he served four terms, including two years as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Subsequently, he served two terms in the West Virginia State Senate, where he served on the Judiciary and Finance committees. From 1989 until 2001, he served as a judge of the West Virginia Court of Claims, holding court in Charleston and throughout West Virginia and served as chief judge from 1993 until his retirement in 2001.

In addition to practicing law, Steptoe was actively involved in banking. Starting out as attorney for The Peoples Trust Co., he rose to serve as chairman of the Board of Directors from 1968 through 1991.

James Duff Steptoe practiced law in Martinsburg for more than 30 years. He was born in Charlottesville, Va., on March 19, 1951, the youngest of four siblings. After receiving his primary education in Berkeley County public schools, the younger Steptoe graduated from Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va., in 1969. At Episcopal High, he received the Whittle Prize for academic excellence and was a member of the track and cross-country teams.

He graduated from Haverford College in 1973. After working one year for The Peoples Bank in Martinsburg, he graduated from the West Virginia University College of Law in 1977. In law school, he was inducted into the Order of the Coif, which is the highest academic recognition awarded to law school graduates.

In 1977, he began his legal career in Martinsburg with the law firm of Avey, Steptoe, Perry, Van Metre & Rockwell, the firm co-founded by his late father. In 1990, Avey & Steptoe merged with Steptoe & Johnson, the statewide law firm co-founded by his grandfather. For the next seven years, Steptoe practiced as a partner in Steptoe & Johnson's Martinsburg office. In 1997, he established his own private law firm and continued to concentrate his practice in real estate, banking, and estate planning and administration until his death.

In addition to practicing law, the younger Steptoe was an accomplished professional musician. He was taught the banjo by Andy Boarman, a renowned bluegrass banjo player. He started his musical career with "Mountain Grass." In 1979, Mr. Steptoe joined with Rusty Williams, Eldred Hill and Leigh Taylor-Kron to form "Patent Pending." Over the course of 30 years, the band played more than 2,000 shows in 22 states and recorded six albums.

He was a member of The West Virginia State Bar and the Berkeley County Bar Association. He served on the board of directors of The Peoples National Bank, and was a longtime member of the Elks Club. He was a lifelong member of Trinity Episcopal Church. As a young man, he achieved the rank of Eagle Scout and was awarded Scouting's "God and Country Award."

Steptoe's passions in life were principally three: his family, including numerous nieces and nephews who adored him as a friend; his law practice where he faithfully adhered to the standards established by his late father and former partner, Robert M. Steptoe; and his music, which afforded him wonderful friendships and interesting life experiences.

The gift was made through the WVU Foundation, a private non-profit corporation that generates and provides support for West Virginia University.

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