By Andy Rieger
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Norman attorney Robert L. “Buddy” Pendarvis, one of the longest practicing attorneys in Cleveland County, died Friday at age 85 after a brief illness.
A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday, March 28, at McFarlin Memorial United Methodist Church with Havenbrook Funeral Home in charge of the service. The family will receive visitors after the service in the church’s atrium.
“The Norman community and the legal community have lost one of our historic, great leaders,” said Bill Hetherington, a former Cleveland County district judge and now a judge on the state Court of Civil Appeals. “I always looked forward to Buddy being in my courtroom because I knew he was going to be prepared and represent his clients aggressively in a very civil and professional way.”
Hetherington said Pendarvis was a mentor for him when he began practicing law in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Norman and then later when he was appointed to the bench. Pendarvis was a longtime liaison between local attorneys and judges.
“I will remember him and hope his family will remember him as the respected and trusted leader that he was. He had a tremendous ability to guide, mold and lead our legal community leaders that many times had diverse interests,” Hetherington said. “I cannot remember anyone — no matter their interest — that ever had an ill word or anything but a kind word about Buddy’s leadership.”
Among his longtime clients was the Norman Public School district and its board members. Norman Superintendent Dr. Joe Siano said Pendarvis’ advice and counsel was thoughtful and always aimed at the best interests of the student.
“He’s going to be missed,” Siano said Saturday. “His advice was always founded in what’s best for the student. He approached it much more from an educator mission perspective. I think that’s unique today,” Siano said. “He was so much more than a legal advisor.”
“On a personal level, I think back to my first couple of years as superintendent,” Siano said. “I was able to get a real sense of, and understand the community and the values of the district through him.”
Pendarvis got the nickname “Buddy” in childhood from his brother, William, when they were growing up in Barnsdall, Okla. Buddy Pendarvis came to the University of Oklahoma on an American Legion Commanders Scholarship in 1947. After graduation in 1951 he was commissioned and soon found himself in a foxhole in Korea as a forward observer in the army field artillery. It was during his three-year military service when he participated in prosecutions in court martials that he got interested in the law, he told Transcript writer Doris Wedge in 2007. He originally planned to become a doctor.
He graduated from the OU College of Law in 1957 and joined the Cleveland County Attorney’s Office under Hez Bussey. When Bussey left to become a Court of Criminal Appeals judge, Pendarvis was elected County Attorney without an opponent.
Pendarvis served in that position from 1960 to 1962, then joined the law firm of Luttrell & Luttrell, which later became Luttrell, Pendarvis & Rawlinson. Pendarvis worked closely with partner Jack Luttrell, who was an attorney for Norman Public Schools, and he developed an expertise in school law, work that has earned Pendarvis national recognition. Luttrell died in 1991, and Pendarvis assumed the Norman Public Schools as a client. Pendarvis had been recognized as one of the best attorneys practicing education law in the United States.
Longtime law partner Gary Rawlinson met Pendarvis at McFarlin Memorial United Methodist Church in the late 1950s. Pendarvis was the Sunday School teacher and Rawlinson was still in high school.
“We practiced together for 44 plus years,” Rawlinson said. “I knew the good points and the bad points and the good points definitely outweighed the bad points.”
Rawlinson said Pendarvis had tremendous energy for the community, found most developments interesting and spent countless hours after work hours checking on friends and clients. “I don’t think there is anything in Norman he didn’t touch,” Rawlinson said.
“I will remember him as a person who cared for his clients, his friends and the community. He was pretty much a Christian example of how you should lead your life. He was a true gentleman,” Rawlinson said.
The local firm merged with Crowe & Dunlevy in 1991. When the firm closed its Norman office in 2012, Pendarvis opened an office on his own in southwest Norman and continued to serve the school district and other longtime clients.
His civic work included working with community leaders in a campaign to get approval of the first one-cent sales tax. That was in 1966, when the tax raised just $50,000 a month. He represented the Chamber of Commerce before the Corporation Commission in its effort to establish Wide Area Telephone Service for the metropolitan area in the late 70s, ending Norman residents paying a long-distance fee to dial an Oklahoma City number. He served as president of the Lions Club, and was active in the Chamber of Commerce and United Way.
He was the Norman 89er Day Parade Grand Marshall in 2007, an honor he was relucant to accept but did so and dedicated it to his wife, Donna, who died a few weeks earlier. The couple had three children, Price Pendarvis, Patti Fox and Paige Hofer, and eight grandchildren.
Pendarvis served as a member of the OU Athletics Council, president of the OU Alumni Association and OU Law Alumni Association. He was inducted into the OU Alumni Hall of Fame in 1975.
He has served as president of the Cleveland County’s Bar Association and had been active in the Oklahoma Bar Association. In 1993, the Oklahoma Bar Association conferred its Public Service Award on Pendarvis, and in 2004, he received the Distinguished Service Award. The Cleveland County Bar awarded him its first Professional Award.
He was an active member, Sunday School Class teacher and former chairman of the administrative board at McFarlin Memorial United Methodist Church.
Nancy McCall, a longtime member of that Sunday School class, said Pendarvis was always prepared for the weekly lesson.
“He never missed unless he was gone to a ball game or gone to visit his family,” she said. “He always had discussions planned and included everyone in the class.”
As a young prosecutor, one of his most memorable cases involved extraditing a man from New York to stand trial for the murder of Dr. Edwin “Daddy” DeBarr, a retired OU dean. That was a high profile case, but Pendarvis was in court regularly representing the state in many criminal cases.
“I believed in my cases, and I really got involved. I was hard-nosed,” he said in 2007, adding “I was hard, but I was fair.”
Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.