Never too late to celebrate! F. Bryant McOmber Jr. walks with class of 2024

Jun 27, 2024 | Alumni

by Angela Turnbow

Dean Louisa Heiny hands F. Bryant McOmber, an older white man with short silver hair, a red sash during convocation in Kingsbury HallThe S.J. Quinney College of Law celebrated the class of 2024 on May 10 at its convocation ceremony, and among those recognized was F. Bryant McOmber Jr. (’73)—an alum finally celebrating his own graduation from the College of Law 51 years after completing his degree.

Originally slated to graduate with the class of 1972, McOmber had a somewhat unusual law school experience—one that involved a draft notice, basic training, and a lost semester of schooling. Despite these commitments and subsequent disruptions, McOmber successfully completed his law studies in January 1973, but further obligations prevented him from participating in the graduation ceremonies.

“I had long-since abandoned the thought of a law school commencement experience until, in a meeting this last winter with Dean Kronk Warner, I recounted for her (at her request) the somewhat unusual circumstances surrounding my completion of law school studies,” McOmber says. “She immediately declared that she would have me march at the class of 2024 commencement—a singular and unexpected honor that I quickly accepted.”

Walking with the class of 2024 came with special significance for McOmber in that he also missed his graduation ceremony from Brigham Young University (where he received a bachelor’s degree in history) due to a study abroad in Salzburg, Austria, for his final semester.

“Prior to SJQ’s commencement, the last time I’d walked across a stage to collect a diploma was upon finishing high school,” McOmber recalls. “It was a great and lasting honor to—even at this late point in my legal career and life—have been invited to have this experience at Kingsbury Hall.”

As McOmber found satisfaction in producing a classical music concert series in San Francisco for several years prior to his retirement, it is fitting that the ceremony was held in a historic performing arts venue.

McOmber also celebrated another Utah Law event recently. He attended the inaugural event for the Golden Gavel Society on April 12, which recognized College of Law alums who graduated 50 or more years ago.

“I enormously value my law school experience, and I regard my decision to pursue a law career at the U one of the best decisions I ever made,” McOmber says. “I applaud the creation of the Golden Gavel Society and am honored to be a member. Among other benefits the creation of this organization produces is the opportunity for post-retirement alumni to become better acquainted with one another.”

These events have given McOmber ample opportunities to reflect on his legal education. He credits family friend Samuel D. Thurman, dean of the College of Law from 1962–1975, with influencing his decision to apply to Utah Law in the first place.

“During my early school years in Palo Alto, Calif., family friend Sam Thurman was on the Stanford Law School faculty, eventually rising to acting dean,” McOmber recalls. “To its credit, the University of Utah recruited him to be dean of its own law school—certainly a very auspicious move for the U and a substantial impetus behind my decision to apply there.”

Halfway through his 2L year, McOmber received the draft notice.

“Congress acted to establish the draft in support of the Vietnam War effort, and I effectively ‘won’ the related draft lottery. In lieu of meeting my military commitment as a generic draftee, however, I committed to a local U.S. Army Reserve Artillery unit—which obligated me to go through basic training, followed by specialized artillery training, a four-month endeavor that I knew would cost me a semester of law school. Moreover, once I completed this training, I was in line to be immediately activated with my reserve unit and sent to Vietnam,” McOmber says.

At the same time, McOmber was successful in the moot court competition rounds. As a finalist, he argued the constitutionality of the Vietnam War before a “panel of jurists from the federal judiciary and the Utah State Supreme Court” on Law Day, May 1. That same day, he was summoned for basic training.

“On that date, I argued my case, defended the appellate brief I had submitted, sparred with the justices, duly participated in the Law Day ceremonial formalities and protocols, gracefully accepted the Court’s ruling of ‘unconstitutionality’ (i.e., I lost), kissed my fiancée goodbye, and jumped on a red-eye destined for Fort Campbell, Ky,” McOmber says.

But that’s not all he remembers about Utah Law. He recalls his criminal law class as a “riveting experience”—one that proved beneficial, no doubt, as he began his career.

F. Bryant McOmber, center (in black graduation cap and gown) stands outside Kingsbury Hall with his family after convocation“My three years at what is now S.J. Quinney College of Law were excellent preparation for a career that started as a deputy district attorney for Alameda County, a baptism-by-fire experience at a time of great turbulence in the Bay Area—especially in Oakland and Berkeley, where confrontations with the Black Panthers and the Hells Angels made national news,” McOmber says.

McOmber also served as a major in the Judge Advocate General Corps (U.S. Army Reserve), fulfilling roles from advisory counsel to litigator and command and general staff lecturer. From 1988 onward, he focused his career on real estate and brokerage law in Palo Alto and San Francisco, Calif.

Through it all, McOmber has found it rewarding to help others access justice.

“Among the many things that have been meaningful in my legal career, most have involved helping people experience just results in the face of difficult circumstances,” McOmber says. “One example involved a young engineer who, as a reservist in a military unit at a summer training session, was accused of serious drug charges and faced serious consequences. The incident made the front page of the Washington Post, and the trial was to take place in San Francisco in front of a panel of field-grade (i.e., upper-echelon) officers. This young man—who had been provisionally admitted into West Point—was innocent, and I had the honor of successfully defending him in a military courtroom in the Presidio of San Francisco.”

For having an unusual law school experience, McOmber certainly has learned a thing or two about facing challenges and encourages the next generation of law students to do the same.

“Embrace the challenge of learning new things, recognize and interact fearlessly and forcefully with challenging facts and legal principles. Be capable of being—as the situation demands—both passionate and dispassionate in representing your clients,” McOmber says.

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