The Clark County-Winchester Heritage Commission has installed a plaque in memory of the late Michael A. Rowady. Yesterday, the Heritage Commission held a dedication ceremony honoring the noted Winchester attorney who died in 2020 at the age of 101.
Commission chair, Steve Justice, addressed a crowd of several dozen who ventured out on a chilly afternoon. He was followed by Michael’s son, Alex, and by phone, Alex’s law partner Bill Dykeman. Attendees were invited to a reception at Wildcat Willy’s, hosted by Michael’s friends, Laura Freeman and Bill Kingsbury.
The handsome plaque was made by Cartwright Designs of Winchester. It is located in front of 50 North Main Street, where Michael grew up. Michael’s parents, Lebanese immigrants Alex and Rose Rowady, had a fruit store there, and the family lived upstairs. Their building is gone; the site is now occupied by Phoenix House Apartments.
After graduating from Winchester High School, Michael enrolled at the University of Kentucky at the tender age of 16. He earned his Bachelor of Arts and Law degrees there. Soon after graduation, he enlisted in the Army during World War II. He served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps and was posted to a number of overseas assignments.
After the War, Michael came home to Winchester, where he would practice law for over 60 years. A lengthy article would be required to describe his distinguished career. To hit just a few of the highlights: He served as Winchester Police Judge and Master Commissioner of the Clark Circuit Court, was a long-time member of the Clark County and Kentucky Bar Associations, practiced in both state and federal court systems, and argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. After retirement in 2005, he continued to provide pro-bono legal services. In 2017 Michael received a Legacy Award from the UK Law School.
Locally, Michael enjoyed 68 years as a Kiwanis Club member and an even longer membership in St. Joseph Catholic Church.
He was devoted to his wife, Alma Clarkson Rowady, to whom he was married for over 50 years. They had two children, Jane Rowady of Lexington and Michael A. “Alex” Rowady of Winchester.
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I had the pleasure of knowing Mike for about twenty years. My most distinct memories of him are when he was in “storytelling” mode, which was anytime we were together. Actually, I think Mike was always in storytelling mode. These were often gems of local history—he was a walking history book—and always enjoyable. He gave me many suggestions for topics to write about. I have never known anyone with such a remarkable memory.
Mike spent his last two years in the Transitional Care Unit at Clark Regional Medical Center. He had a private room and nurses who treated him like a king. And he had frequent visitors. I was one of them.
Mike’s stories were so interesting, I wondered if he might allow me to record an oral history for posterity. He liked the idea, was even enthusiastic you might say. I had no idea what I was in for.
We recorded four interviews between April and July of 2017. My thoughts about organizing them along the lines of family, career, etc. went totally out the window. No matter which way I cued him, Mike would take off on a track, jumping from one topic to another until he had to pause for breath, and then I’d try again. I eventually gave up and just enjoyed listening to the fascinating stories he shared one after another—for a total of 6 hours and 45 minutes. Here are just a couple of examples.
He told me about his first day at Hickman Street School. He said his teacher, Mrs. McIlvaine, wore “a beautiful red velour dress, and I was wearing my pongee shirt with the ruffles.” (A pongee shirt was made of thin soft fabric woven from raw silk.) This had happened in 1925, and Mike was retelling at age 99!
Mike recalled his memories of the Pastime Theatre disaster which occurred in 1918, about nine months after he was born. During a windstorm, the wall of an adjoining building fell on the theatre causing the roof to collapse. The accident killed eleven, including eight children. Mike recounted many details about the accident that he had learned first-hand from the accounts of his family.
My cousin, Tommy Thomas, was one of the victims. My father gave Tommy a dime for admission so he could attend that night. “Papa said he always felt badly about that.” Tommy’s brother, Matry, sat beside him at the theatre. After the roof collapsed, Tommy asked, “Are you hurt?” Matry said, “No. How ’bout you?” and got no answer. Tommy died in the theatre; Matry was taken to the hospital with a broken arm.
One of these days I hope the interviews will become available to the public through the Bluegrass Heritage Museum.
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Michael Rowady was truly one of a kind. A local treasure. I still miss you, Mike.