Published on:

John M. Conway (1936-2009)

It is with heavy hearts that we report the death of John M. Conway, one of this firm’s founding members and its guiding hand for many decades.

John suffered a stroke while at his second home on the island of Molokai in Hawaii. He was taken to the hospital where he passed away on March 31. John was 72 years old.

John Conway was born in Juneau, Alaska in 1936. He grew up in Sitka where his father, J. J. Conway, ran a commercial dock and other business enterprises. John received an undergraduate degree from the University of Washington in 1958, and a law degree from the same university in 1961.

After law school, John came to Anchorage and started practicing law, initially as an associate in the office of John Hellenthal. Shortly thereafter, in 1962, John joined with Jerry Wade to form the law firm of Wade & Conway, which became Atkinson, Wade & Conway once Ken Atkinson joined them in 1965. The firm prospered and grew and is today Atkinson, Conway & Gagnon, Inc. John served as the firm’s de facto managing partner from the beginning through the 1990s.

Starting out on everything from divorce cases to admiralty claims, John established himself as a gifted trial attorney. He had a true talent for getting right to the heart of any dispute. John’s no-nonsense approach and frankness gave him a real courtroom presence and won him the respect of the judges and jurors before whom he tried cases.

As his reputation grew, John was sought out by many of the biggest clients to handle many of the biggest civil cases in Alaska. He represented Providence Hospital for decades and served on its advisory board. He handled many litigation matters for the National Bank of Alaska. Perhaps John’s most famous case was the impeachment trial of his friend and client, Governor Bill Sheffield. John organized the Governor’s defense and handled the impeachment hearing as co-counsel with Philip Lacovara. The Governor, of course, was acquitted.

In later years, John focused his legal efforts on defending complex products liability cases, including cases involving firearms. He won some remarkable defense verdicts for his clients in these cases, proving yet again his great talent as a trial advocate.

John was preceded in death by his wife, Sally. He is survived by his longtime companion, Ruthann Hansen, and by his four daughters, Shannon, Lael, Maribeth and Molly, sons-in-law, and a fine future jury pool of grandchildren.