Lawyer served in Army, founded Columbia firm

Tuesday, October 22, 2013 | 6:16 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — David Arthur "Art" Oliver was a trial lawyer and a Korean War veteran who was highly esteemed in the Columbia community, according to family members and fellow attorneys.

"He was of the old school where you were, above all, ethical, colloquial and professional," said Betty Wilson, an attorney at the firm Mr. Oliver helped found, Oliver Walker & Wilson LLC. "He had a really keen understanding of people from all walks of life."

David Arthur "Art" Oliver of Columbia died Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, at his home. He was 84. 

He was born May 26, 1929, in Bloomfield to Charles Clay and Virginia Irene (Hays) Oliver.

He spent a year at Westminster College in Fulton before attending MU, where he received a Bachelor of Science in education in 1951.

He then served in the Army for two years as part of the Counter Intelligence Corps, and he was stationed in West Germany during the Korean War.

Mr. Oliver had a family history of practicing attorneys in southeast Missouri, which influenced him to enter the field after his service in the Army. He graduated from the MU School of Law in 1956.

He and his wife, Carolyn Anne (Phillips) Oliver, were married for 56 years after meeting on a blind date.

"I didn't want to go, but it worked out beautifully," Carolyn Oliver said.

She described her husband as a kind, gentle and loving person — the most selfless person his family had ever known, she said.

"Material things were not important to him," Carolyn Oliver said. "He enjoyed the friendships he had throughout the years with many people."

After Mr. Oliver graduated from the MU School of Law, he joined the firm of Howard F. Major in Columbia.

Hamp Ford — a practicing attorney at Ford, Parshall & Baker in Columbia — met Mr. Oliver in fall 1961. Ford was a student at the MU School of Law while Mr. Oliver was practicing with Major. 

"We shared cases together, we tried cases together, and we tried cases against each other," Ford said. "He was the epitome of what many of us think a lawyer should be."

Ford described Mr. Oliver as a "dapper fellow" who always behaved admirably. 

A few years after he joined Major, Mr. Oliver was appointed probate judge for Boone County, stood for and won election the following year.

He became the director of legal education for the Missouri Bar Association in 1966, then returned to private practice in 1968.

Mr. Oliver was one of the founding members of Oliver, Walker & Wilson LLC in 1968. He retired in 2011 after serving as a trial lawyer for more than 50 years.

Mr. Oliver was a member of the Missouri Bar Association, the Boone County Bar Association and the Missouri Organization of Defense Lawyers. He was named a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, in addition to numerous other awards and honors from a variety of legal organizations.

Mr. Oliver's community involvement was extensive. He served on the boards of the Woodhaven/Boone County Extended Sheltered Workshop, the Cancer Research Center, the Boone County Group Homes, the Visiting Nurses Association and the Columbia area United Way. He served for 13 years on the board of directors of Shelter Insurance Companies.

Mr. Oliver is survived by his wife, Carolyn Anne (Phillips) Oliver; a son, David A. Oliver Jr., and his wife, Kaylon, of Houston, Texas; a daughter, Anne Oliver Bearden, and her husband, Brian, of Webster Groves; a sister, Mary Louise Kuhnmuench of St. Louis; four grandchildren, Audrey Bearden, Olivia Bearden, David Oliver III and Roy Oliver; and numerous nieces and nephews. 

A brother, Charles Clay Oliver Jr. of Kansas City, died earlier.

A celebration service will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 16 at the University Club of MU, 704 Conley Ave. The burial will be at Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Cemetery near Cape Girardeau.

Memorial donations can be made to The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, 2101 Vandiver Drive, Columbia, MO 65202; The Salvation Army, P.O. Box 1864, Columbia, MO 65202; or any other charity whose mission is to serve those in need in the community.

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