Portraits presented

Published 5:36 pm Thursday, July 19, 2018

Retired Circuit Court Clerks Carol Ownby and Sarah Kate Spry were honored through two portraits that were installed at the Cumberland County Circuit Court Clerk’s office Monday. The portraits were made possible by a lifelong Cumberland County resident and attorney whose legacy continues following his death May 22, 2017.

James Pendleton “Penny” Baber played an integral role in having the two portraits commissioned to honor the clerks.

The portraits were painted by Leah Olivier.

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Ownby was Circuit Court Clerk from 1995 to 2013, and was Deputy Clerk from 1974 until 1995.

Spry had been Circuit Court Clerk for five years and worked in the Cumberland County Circuit Court for 20 years before retiring at the end of April.

Catherine Fleischman, Baber’s daughter, attended the Monday ceremony and described Baber, with other attendees, as a legend in the county.

“He spent a lot of time in this court office,” Fleischman said.

Fleischman said Baber began practicing law in 1961. He had been the county’s Commonwealth’s Attorney from 1967-1983. Fleischman said Baber was born in Columbia and was buried in Cumberland County.

His former office is located in a small, white home-like building behind the courthouse, the former farmhouse of Thorton and Fannie Foster, a previous Herald report cited. A gold and green sign detailing Baber’s practice as an attorney and commissioner of accounts still stands outside the office.

Fleishchman and Spry said Baber advocated for the portraits.

“Dad died before they would be finished,” Fleishchman said about the portraits. She said her brother and sister, Andy and Courtneay, worked to make sure the portrait project was completed after Baber’s death.

“This was important to Dad,” Fleischman said, noting his appreciation and advocacy for the arts.

Spry said she remembered the day Baber approached her about having a portrait done of her as clerk.

“He asked for me to consider it,” Spry recalled. “He had an impish grin and a twinkle in his eye.”

“I couldn’t say no,” Spry said.

Carol Ownby said her first job was working with Baber at the Commonwealth’s Attorney office.

“He was never too busy to help you,” Ownby said.

Ownby said she also worked with Irma Jean Turnstall, who worked in the county from 1963-1995.

Agreeing with this, Spry said Baber would help people he would meet walking down the street. Sometimes conversations would become so involved Baber would miss his office appointments.

Fleischman said “He struggled with understanding billing for advice.” She said when offering advice, Baber would preface by saying it was his own opinion, and it may not be the best one. Participants commented on Baber’s humility.

Spry said Baber was a wealth of knowledge about the county, knowing almost everything there was to know. She described his death as a large loss.

Present Circuit Court Clerk Deidre Martin said the event was a testament to Baber’s involvement in the county.

“I think it was very nice that we were able to honor two great clerks,” Martin said. “Mr. Baber was a fascinating person and it was so much like his amazing personality to be so giving.”