April 12, 1922 – Nov. 15, 2011
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The Honorable Joseph B. Gary passed away on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011. After a life of 89 well-lived years, he slipped out peacefully, surrounded by his family. Joe was born in Bozeman on April 12, 1922, to John Patrick and Mary Elizabeth (Marley) Gary, the youngest of seven Gary children. His siblings, Helen, Elizabeth, Jean, Mary Frances, Agnes and Jack, preceded him in death.
Raised in Bozeman, Joe attended the Holy Rosary schools. He matriculated to Carroll College in Helena, and when World War II broke out, he transferred to Montana State in the officers training program, and subsequently completed his officers training in the midshipmen program at Columbia University. He served as a lieutenant (JG) in the Navy in the Pacific Theatre in World War II.
Upon returning from the war he benefited from the GI Bill and attended the University of Michigan School of Law, where he received his law degree in 1949. (He often said that the GI Bill was the best investment the government ever made.)
While at Michigan, he met Peg Casto of Anaconda, who was also a student at the U of M. They courted for two years - attending many a sporting event at the university and in nearby Detroit while doing so - and were married on Sept. 11, 1948, in Ann Arbor in St. Mary's Chapel, officiated by their dear friend, Father Frank McPhillips.
After he completed his law degree, Joe and Peg moved to Bozeman, where he and his friend, Mick O'Connell, ran against each other for county attorney. Mick prevailed in the election and promptly appointed Joe as the deputy county attorney. Joe later took up private practice with his beloved law partner of many years, Hjalmar Landoe, forming the firm of Landoe & Gary, subsequently Landoe, Gary, Brown & Planalp. After 30 years in private practice, Joe was elected State District Court Judge in 1978.
Joe and Peg raised a family of five children. Joe leaves behind his beloved wife, Peg, of 63 years; his kids and their spouses; and 14 grandchildren. His wife and children (and sons- and daughters-in-law), Marie and Kirk, Joan and Mark, Brian and Lisa, Brett and Amy, and Mark and Diane, along with their children - Ryan, Megan, Mollie, Shea, Will, Erin, Anna, Julia, Joey, Annabelle, Ruby, Rachel, Connor and Laurel - miss him greatly and cherish their memories of their loving and compassionate and funny and gentle husband, father and grandfather.
Joe was a man of his community, as evidenced by so many commitments to public and community causes. He was a founder of Riverside Country Club, president of the state March of Dimes, president of Big Brothers & Sisters of Gallatin County, member of the board of trustees of the Montana State University Foundation, president of the Gallatin County Bar Association, and served along the way as the attorney for the city of Bozeman. Joe served as counsel for the Bozeman School Board and for many years as counsel for Holy Rosary Catholic Church and Resurrection Parrish.
Joe received honors and recognition from the MSU Alumni Association and Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce. He was a long-time Bobcat Booster, led the fundraising efforts to build the swimming complex and football and track stadium at Bozeman Senior High School, and helped organize the Bridger Ski Education Foundation. He was a member of the Noon Optimists Club (naturally) and involved with and contributed to numerous other civic organizations.
For the past 40 years, he and Peg have been active members of Resurrection Parish.
Joe was a lover of sports - as a participant he loved golfing and skiing. After being struck by lightning 17 years ago, he had to give up skiing, but continued golfing until just a few years ago. As a boy during the Depression, Joe was a caddy at the old Elks Country Club and learned his game there - developing an inimitable wiggle in his backswing and his philosophy toward golf and any other sport or life endeavor: "Keep your head down and your tail up," was advice he invariably offered his progeny on their way to a ski race, basketball game or mid-term exam. As a young man Joe took fourth in the Montana State Amateur.
He also loved watching sports, and endured many a day freezing while sitting in the stands watching Hawk and Bobcats football games and track meets, or while keeping gates during ski races at Bridger Bowl. He endured every imaginable blizzard to attend basketball games, and invariably was in the stands or on the golf course or on the ski hill watching his children's sporting events.
"Judge Joe" was a much-honored and deeply respected judge. Besides his knowledge, respect and love for all aspects of the law, he was known for his fairness, compassion and belief in rehabilitation. He lobbied successfully to change the laws regarding sentencing options, believing that diverting eligible offenders to community-based rehabilitation programs could be more productive than prison. He received repeated recognition for his work on juvenile rehabilitation and was justly proud of his record of having very few cases of probation violation or recidivism.
He was honored for his lifetime work and jurisprudence by the state and local bar associations and the Montana Trial Lawyers Association. He was most honored, however, by the many personal letters he received from youth who gave him full credit for the opportunities he gave them to turn their lives around.
With his distinctive concern for the welfare of children, he pioneered Gallatin County's Guardian ad Litem program in which citizen volunteers serve as advocates for abused and neglected children in the judicial system so that the voices of the children can be heard in the courtroom. Today, Gallatin County's Guardian ad Litem program continues to be an exemplary model in the state of Montana.
With his experiences, wisdom and dedication to the legal profession, Judge Joe also generously made himself available to young lawyers to offer them guidance, suggestions and constructive criticism to help make them successful lawyers.
A Vigil will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, at Dokken-Nelson Sunset Chapel. A Funeral Mass and celebration of Joe's life will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 18, at Resurrection Parish.
For those wishing to honor Judge Joe, donations may be made to the Gallatin County Food Bank. Additionally, the "Judge Joseph B. Gary Programs for At-Risk Youth" Memorial Fund has been established with the Montana State University Foundation. Gifts in memory of Judge Gary should be made to "MSU Foundation" and sent to P.O. Box 172750, Bozeman, MT 59717-2750 (please reference the fund name in the memo line).
Arrangements are in the care of Dokken-Nelson Funeral Service; www.dokkennelson.com.
Dokken-Nelson Funeral Service
113 South Willson Avenue
Bozeman, MT 59715
Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Nov. 17, 2011