The portrait of Ammon Gresham Dunton was unveiled Friday, Nov. 16 at 4 p.m. by Ammon Dunton Jr. and Jim Dunton at the Lancaster Courthouse. Judge Harry T. Taliaferro III presided over the unveiling ceremony.
Formerly known as the “Dean of the Northern Neck Bar,” Dunton founded the White Stone law firm Dunton, Simmons and Dunton in 1931 and practiced law until 1997. Dunton passed away in 2000, leaving behind a storied career in which he also possessed a leadership role over several local banks and in the local fishing industry. Immediately following his passing in 2000, the Commonwealth of Virginia General Assembly and the Northern Neck Bar Association passed resolutions in his honor.
Dunton’s legacy includes his son Ammon G. Dunton Jr., an accomplished lawyer who works at Dunton-Simmons and has also served as director and president of local businesses and financial institutions. During the unveiling, Dunton Jr. remarked on the impact that his father had on the Northern Neck.
“He helped thousands of people, and his general interest in his clients was reciprocated by their affection for him,” he commemorated. “I’ve had people that I did not know come up to me and tell me about the ways in which my father was a friend to them and provided them his assistance.”
Dunton Jr. noted that his father did not retire from practicing law until he was 93 years old, at which time Dunton was physically weaker, but still “mentally sharp as ever” according to his son.
“Near the end of his career, my father needed the sheriff to physically help him up the stairs,” he remembered. “But once he was on the second floor, he would enter the courtroom and take his place in the trial.”
The Dunton portrait, which will be hung on the old courthouse wall inside Lancaster Circuit Court, was recently painted by landscape artist Ed Hatch from Spring Grove.
Jim Breeden who worked with Dunton at Dunton, Simmons, & Dunton for 11 years, praised Dunton as a “man of many talents.”
“Although he received widespread recognition as a trial lawyer, he was part of the American Fisheries that responded to the state department’s negotiating team in working as a national diplomat with international fisheries, and he served as director and president of three local banks simultaneously,” Breeden said of Dunton.
In addition, Dunton served as the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Lancaster County, president and chairman of the Northern Neck Insurance Company, president of the Virginia Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, and director of several local businesses.
But Breeden’s admiration was not limited to Dunton’s versatility. He also drew notice to Dunton’s track record as a criminal lawyer.
On the cases he worked with Dunton, Breeden said: “We tried 10 murder cases together and never lost one.”
According to Breeden, Dunton on his own won “scores and scores” of cases.
“There was a man who lived in this area, his name was Robert Hill,” Breeden said in reference to one of Dunton’s clients. “Mr. Dunton had defended Mr. Hill on the charge of murder not once, not twice, but five times, and he won every time.”
Breeden credited Dunton as the individual who encouraged his switch from working tax returns to arguing cases in the courtroom.
“I remember going to a couple of general district courts and an armed robbery trial with him, and I thought, ‘Man, this is fun! I’d rather be doing this than watching paint dry!’” Breeden laughed. “I have always looked on Dunton as the lawyer’s lawyer.”
Today, Jim Breeden has his own law firm, Breeden & Breeden, but he continues to uphold Dunton as a “great mentor,” and every day he’s in the courtroom, Breeden uses something that Dunton imparted to him.
On what he believes the Dunton portrait symbolizes for White Stone and for the Northern Neck as a whole, Breeden said: “He was a native son and the area’s most prominent lawyer for decades. He was the lawyer for the disinherited and held a great following by all levels of people in the region.”
When Breeden originally asked Hon. Taliaferro to have Dunton’s legacy framed and painted in 2004, he replied in a letter: “There’s not a lawyer that is more deserving of having his portrait hung on the courthouse wall in Lancaster County Circuit Court than Ammon G. Dunton.”