May 18 2020

Allan R. Gitter, a retired partner in Womble Bond Dickinson’s Winston-Salem office and one of North Carolina’s legendary trial lawyers, died peacefully on Sunday, May 17, 2020, at his home in Jefferson. He was 83.

Numerous young lawyers began their legal careers working under and tried their first cases with Allan, including a number of partners and leaders of the firm when it was known as Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice. These included, among many, Murray Greason, Bill Raper, Rick Rice, Ellen Gregg, Alison Bost, Jim Morgan, Rachel Keen, Chris Geis, Brad Wood, and Gemma Saluta.

Allan was the lead attorney in over a thousand cases filed in state and federal courts in North Carolina between 1964 and 2009, many of which he tried to verdict, as well as the named counsel in 293 reported appellate cases during that time. In his last reported appellate case, Frink v. Batten, he was the senior attorney representing the sheriff of Columbus County, North Carolina, and prevailed on appeal in a case of first impression before the North Carolina Court of Appeals. He also was the lead attorney in numerous other significant cases in the areas of insurance defense and local government and law enforcement officers’ liability.

In 1982 he was inducted as a fellow in the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers. He was also an Advocate in the American Board of Trial Advocates, listed in The Best Lawyers in America (Litigation) from 1989 to 2007 and again in 2011, and listed in North Carolina Super Lawyers (Litigation) from 2006 to 2009.

Allan joined the firm in 1962 when it was located in the Old Wachovia Building on Third Street in downtown Winston-Salem and employed about a dozen lawyers and legal assistants. In The Best Is Yet to Be: The First 125 Years of a Law Firm, a book on the firm’s history published in 2001, Allan’s hiring is recalled as follows:

“Gitter, who covered [Winston-Salem] Board of Aldermen meetings for a local radio station while waiting to take the state bar exam, had been approached by W.F. [William] Womble about doing some legal research for the firm in conjunction with its role as city attorney. On becoming an associate, Gitter immediately moved into litigation, training under Irving Carlyle and Grady Barnhill.”  

Years later, Allan told one of his associates that all he ever wanted to be was a lawyer, and, when he nervously walked into the firm’s library and met with the firm’s senior partner, B.S. Womble, who was William F. Womble’s father, he was hooked as soon as he “smelled the books and the wood paneling.”

Allan’s philosophy of trial practice came along when, according to retired partner Bill Raper in The Best Is Yet to Be, lawyers had “a trial a week, sometimes two.” He believed in getting down to the essentials of a case and prided himself on never taking more than 45 minutes for a deposition, which usually involved his evisceration of the witness’ assertions.

Allan loved the law, but he was also a many of other talents. He was a star athlete at R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, where he played single-wing halfback in football and pitcher in baseball. He played baseball at Washington & Lee University and was a John D. Rouse Scholar, graduating in 1958. He graduated from the University of Michigan School of Law in 1961. During law school he earned a living with his deep, melodious voice as a night radio dee-jay spinning records for the campus radio station. His trademark sign-off on the night shift was, “Remember never to buy bad dreams.” Years later that voice would serve him well as a trial lawyer when he delivered thundering and captivating opening statements and closing arguments.

He was a proud coach of the Tiny Demons Pop Warner football team in Winston-Salem. He also served as president of The Children’s Center, an educational and care facility for children with serious chronic health issues. Memorials in lieu of flowers may be made there in his name.

Allan is survived by his wife of 32 years, Sandy; three children, Alison, Kent, and Ryne; two step-children, Wendy and Rob; multiple grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

A memorial service will be held at a later time.

In Memoriam: Allan Gitter