Saturday, August 14, 2004
Real estate attorney was 'giant of a man'
In November, Mike Aheron was voted best real estate attorney in Roanoke by readers of the Roanoker magazine.
When you think there's nothing good left in the world, spend a day at Mike Aheron's house and your faith will be restored.
"I tell people, 'If you want to see love and good people, come to this house,'" said Aheron's only sister, Susan Magill. "I've never seen anything like it."
Magill said it's not just the uncommonly strong bond among the Aherons, but also the support they have received from the people of the Roanoke Valley in the three years since Mike Aheron was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
Aheron, who practiced real estate law in the Roanoke Valley for more than 20 years, succumbed to the disease Friday morning. He was 52.
Aheron was born here and graduated from Northside High School in 1970. He left the area only to continue his education, graduating from Oberlin College in Ohio -- where he met Avis, his wife of 29 years -- and from T.C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond. He then moved back to Roanoke to practice law. He stayed with the former firm of Osterhoudt, Ferguson, Natt, Aheron & Agee for 23 years before starting his own practice in 2000.
"He was a Roanoke native, pure and simple," said John Renick, who became a partner in Aheron's firm in 2002. Renick had retired in 1996 but went back to work to help Aheron, whose practice closed the first of this year.
"He was not tall of stature but a giant of a man," Renick said. "He understood people's problems and addressed them and took care of them and did it with dignity. That's the way he was, and it carried into his practice."
Aheron's peers agreed. In the November issue of The Roanoker magazine, Aheron was named top real estate attorney by other Roanoke Valley lawyers. He served as legal counsel for the Roanoke Valley Association of Realtors "and gave them tremendous support and guidance," Renick said. He said the association really respected his advice.
"Anything associated with him, people could rely on," Renick said. "He was a compliment to the legal profession. Not too many lawyers you can say that about."
"He knew right from wrong. He didn't slide," said Aheron's brother-in-law, John Magill. "I cannot imagine a lie or a falsehood ever having passed his lips."
Aheron was best known to Roanokers as an attorney, but his friends and family knew him as a farmer and a jokester who rarely missed a Roanoke Express hockey game or a Virginia Tech Hokies football game.
"He loved ice hockey," Avis Aheron said. She said her husband played on ponds as he was growing up in Roanoke and played in college. She remembers that before cable television was available in their home, she and her husband would go to the now-defunct Piche's restaurant to watch hockey games on television - while their infant daughter rested under the table in a carrier.
Mike Aheron's getaway spot was the family farm, a 600-acre parcel in Craig County complete with beef cattle. Aheron's high school friends, who in 2002 established an annual scholarship in his name for a Northside High School senior, dubbed the place "The Funny Farm," and the name stuck, Avis Aheron said.
"He had the greatest sense of humor," said Beth Magill, Aheron's niece. She and her uncle played practical jokes on each other and had an ongoing competition to see who could find the best gag gifts. Among Aheron's was a banana holder full of rotten bananas.
"Mike was at home and most comfortable on his tractor at his farm, at a Virginia Tech football game, at a hockey game, in a courtroom, but most importantly with his family and friends," John Magill said.
Once the shock of his ALS diagnosis wore off, Aheron never complained, instead viewing it as an opportunity to make the most of every day, Susan Magill said. The family made it a point to spend time together, going on trips to New York and to an island off Panama.
"Every day was just a lot of love and joy," Susan Magill said. "It was a celebration of life." She said Aheron's physical therapist commented that his home, unlike many of the homes she visited, was full of life and love.
"He was the love of my life," Avis Aheron said. "He was one of the good guys in this world of mean and crazy people."