- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
George Andrews grew up in the restaurant business. He didn’t have much choice.
His parents owned and operated the eatery Prince George’s (not named after him, Andrews pointed out) in College Park, a Route 1 haunt for college faculty.
From the time he could remember, Andrews worked there.
“Washing glasses, dishwasher, waiter,” he said of the jobs he was tasked with. “I wanted to escape from the restaurant business.”
His mother always told him he would make a good lawyer, and when he was in junior high school — where he excelled at public speaking and writing — Andrews knew he was going to pursue a law degree.
He graduated from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law in 1963 and started work at a suburban law firm.
He lasted five months there.
“The way they conducted business is not how I wanted to go,” Andrews said, recalling that he was handed a file and told to go to court.
He wanted to know his clients, and besides he had been planning the layout of his own office even while he was in school — never mind that lawyers are advised not to start their own practice until they have years of experience under their belts.
“I was out of my mind,” Andrews said of hanging out a shingle for George Andrews Attorney and Counselor at Law.
It was the bravado of youth, he said.
“I didn’t know how inexperienced I was. I just charged along. I wanted to support my family and provide good legal services,” he said, sitting in the conference room of Andrews Bongar Gormley & Clagett, the Waldorf law office that is celebrating 50 years in business this year.
“George Andrews’ DNA is still in this place,” said Tucker V. Clagett, who started working for the firm in 1996 and liked that it had a laid-back atmosphere and was not as buttoned up as some others.
“This group was never stuffy,” he said.
But don’t take the open collars (“I have a tie in my office, Clagett said) or rock star biographies on bookshelves as a sign of laziness or lack of interest in the law and clients.
When it started, the firm specialized in real estate law and was one of very few firms that worked with Baltimore Federal Savings and Loan Association, a major lender in the state.
“All the local lenders took note of this,” Andrews said. “If you take care of the client, everything else will follow.”
In 1968, Andrews and his law partner, Robert Schick, moved to an office on Berry Road in Waldorf.
“St. Charles was booming, but there were no lawyers,” said Andrews, adding that breaking into Charles County’s law community was “very difficult.”
But he and Schick kept going and soon were taking on more associates who would become partners — Charles “Chuck” Bognar, Richard “Chip” Starkey and Carolyn Woodside joined, broadening the practice’s specialty from real estate to just about everything.
“We expanded as we went along into new fields,” Andrews said.
The general practice office takes on civil, criminal, planning and zoning, bankruptcy, personal injury, medical malpractice, workers’ compensation and family law cases.
“We took everything that walked through the door,” Andrews said. “It was fun.”
The father of three — George Jr., Derek and Nikki — Andrews said he was “blessed” to have married Johanna, known as Hanie, the daughter of a lawyer.
“The law is a selfish mistress,” he said.
Hanie, who was his first staff member when he went out on his own, knew Andrews’ work would mean long hours.
In 1997, Hanie was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia with doctors warning that her time was limited.
“I had to leave, this was the end,” said Andrews of stepping away from the practice to focus on his family, which soon included the couple’s first grandchild, Katherine (four others would follow).
Then a cancer drug, Gleevec, helped Hanie greatly.
“It’s not a cure,” Andrews said. “But it is a savior.”
The couple moved to Elkridge to be closer to their family and spend time in Florida and West Virginia. Andrews, like Bognar who lives in La Plata, still stops in to find out what’s going on in the county and to give advice.
“It’s remarkable to be able to maintain a consistent practice for 50 years,” Andrews said, especially considering that none of the children of the firm’s original partners went into the law business. “I surrounded myself with good people. All this talent, what did I do? I brought them altogether.”
Gormley came to the firm in 2002 after working in other offices where the children of the partners were coming on board.
Gormley said he didn’t want to work for somebody’s kid and he liked the philosophy of the Andrews Bongar office.
He also liked that when he went to the Charles County Courthouse for the first time, a clerk asked if he needed help.
Coming from bustling Baltimore, it was a nice change of pace.
The firm was “not just working you to death,” said Gormley, the grandson and nephew of pharmacists who helped foster in him a sense of helping others.
“It wasn’t all about the money,” Clagett explained. “We work to live. We don’t live to work. That’s important.”
And knowing you can count on your co-workers means a lot.
“It’s priceless to have partners you can trust,” Clagett said. “I think the firm will survive another 50 years. The firm has succeeded by bringing in people with the same values.”
The practice celebrated its golden anniversary last month with a party at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Piney Parish.
“I could fill a yellow pad full of my blessings,” Andrews said. “I really could.”