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.

From left to right: Jane, Alex and Rita Rowady in front of the plaque dedicated on January 12, 2022. (Photo by Harry Enoch)
From left to right: Jane, Alex and Rita Rowady in front of the plaque ded­i­cat­ed on January 12, 2022. (Photo by Harry Enoch)

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.

*  *  *

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. 

Michael Rowady Memorial Plaque (Photo by Harry Enoch)
Michael Rowady Memorial Plaque (Photo by Harry Enoch)

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.

*  *  *

Michael Rowady was tru­ly one of a kind.  A local trea­sure.  I still miss you, Mike.

  • Harry is a Mt. Sterling native who has lived in Clark County since1999. He has a pas­sion for the past and has researched and writ­ten exten­sive­ly about the his­to­ry of this area.