July 22, 2009
A Loving Lawyer: Agi Petersen ’59 Loves Law and Thinks Lawyers Should Love Themselves a Little More
This is the fourth in a series of stories profiling Oregon Law alumni whose class reunions occur this fall.
St. Helens native Agnes “Agi” (Thompson) Petersen ’59 doesn’t like to talk about herself. The tall, thin, dark-haired woman who jokingly describes herself as looking like Olive Oil from the Popeye cartoon, would much rather discuss the accomplishments of her classmates and her children.
“You have many more persons in this class who are more interesting than I am,” she says in response to interview requests. “You might want to reconsider your choice.”
What Agi doesn’t understand is that she is an incredibly interesting person. Despite being one of only two females in her class (the other, Barbara Seymour, was her friend and godmother) among a number of males who were significantly older than she was at the time, Agi still managed to rank fourth among her classmates at graduation. She says that while law school was tough, she actually “had a blast” the entire time.
Looking back, Agi admits she had no idea what the law profession entailed when she entered it. Her grandmother thought everyone should get into politics and that law school was a means to that end, so that’s what Agi did.
It turns out Agi was very lucky and soon found that she loved the law.
She has been practicing fulltime now at the same location for 50 years with no plans to call it quits any time soon. Agi thoroughly enjoys her profession. After graduation, she focused her practice on drunk-driving cases, but as her clients aged, Agi’s practice developed into family and divorce law, and she now focuses on wills and trusts.
In addition to her extensive law career and raising a family with her husband, John, Agi also found time to run for various political offices, including state representative and Columbia County district attorney, but often became distracted by more pressing issues.
“Every time I ran for an office, I got pregnant,” Agi says. “So I figured that was what was causing it, so I quit running for office for a few years.”
In later years, however, Agi successfully ran for the St. Helens School Board, the Columbia County Education Service District Board, the St. Helens Columbia PUD Board, St. Helens Port District Board, and in 1989 she became a member of the Oregon State Bar Board of Governors, where she deemed herself the “Mistress of Trivia.”
Throughout her career, Agi has advocated for professionalism within the practice of law, or what she calls “Loving Lawyers.” In an article written after her run for the OSB Board of Governors, Agi called on all lawyers to love themselves and one another more, stating that this is what true “professionalism” entails.
“We need to stop repeating the old saws about what we think Shakespeare and Christ said about lawyers,” she noted. “It becomes a game of putdownsmanship. This is a marvelous profession ’“ really.”
Even in her 1989 application to run for the OSB Board of Governors, Agi espoused her feelings on lawyers’ perceptions of their profession.
“Most of today’s lawyers have to take in more business than they can handle in order to make a living,” she wrote. “We are fine people in an honorable profession and we do much good in many ways everyday.”
In addition to loving the law for most of her life, Agi has been a loving mother and wife. She says the most important things she has ever done were to be faithful to her husband and raising her four children.
“We raised them so none were in jail or on public assistance,” she says proudly.
In fact, three of her children are University of Oregon graduates and her only daughter, Mary Anne (Petersen) Anderson, is also a 1990 graduate of Oregon Law.
Neither her life story nor the fact that the Federal Courthouse has kept a poster detailing Agi’s storied career seem to convince her that she’s interesting. Agi simply shrugs off the attention with a slice of humor, saying the poster is kept in a dark closet somewhere, as she would much rather stay out of the limelight.
“The poster is there because a few years ago Judge [Edward] Leavy saw fit to honor ancient women lawyers at his bar picnic. It’s drug out occasionally for some receptions along with several others.”