Judge August Owen "Gus" Hennegan, a former Towson lawyer appointed to the Baltimore County Circuit Court by Gov. Harry R. Hughes, died of cancer Thursday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. He was 82.
"Gus was the best of the best. He had a fantastic personality, knew the law, and no case was too difficult for him to tackle. Anything you gave him, he could handle, and he did it all perfectly," said retired Baltimore County Circuit Judge John F. Fader II. "He was everything a lawyer and a judge should be, and was as well-thought of a human being as I've ever met."
"He enjoyed being a judge. He was well-tempered, gentlemanlike and patient. He understood issues, was very knowledgeable about the law and enjoyed challenges," said his son, John O. Hennegan, also a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge.
Judge Hennegan was born in Baltimore and was reared in Charles Village and Rodgers Forge. He was a 1939 graduate of Loyola High School and earned his bachelor's degree from Loyola College in 1943.
After graduating from college, he enlisted in the Navy and served as a gunnery officer aboard the USS Stockham, a destroyer in the Pacific that was part of the fleet anchored in Tokyo Bay that witnessed the Japanese surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri.
After returning to Baltimore at the end of the war, he enrolled in law school at the University of Maryland, earning his law degree in 1950.
"We went to high school and college together and I ushered at his wedding," said Jim McKay, the former ABC sportscaster and founder and chairman of the Maryland Million racing event. "He was an easygoing guy who had fire in his belly when playing sports. Right after World War II, Gus decided he wanted to be a lawyer. He also had a wife and a child. He worked during the day and went to law school at night. I can't imagine anything tougher."
Judge Hennegan was recalled to active duty in 1950 as a naval intelligence officer assigned to the Pentagon.
In the early 1950s, he joined the Baltimore law firm of Buckmaster, White, Mindel and Clark, which had offices downtown in the old Mathiesen Building at 10 Light St.
In the early 1960s, he established the partnership of Hennegan and Agnew in Towson. His partner, Spiro T. Agnew, would serve as vice president under President Richard M. Nixon from 1969 to 1973. The firm, located first in an office on Pennsylvania Avenue, later moved to the Jefferson Building on Chesapeake Avenue.
He specialized in admiralty and personal injury law, his son said.
Judge Hennegan was a partner in the Towson law firm of Moore, Hennegan, Carney and Ryan when Governor Hughes appointed him to the Circuit Court in 1983, filling the vacancy created when Judge Paul E. Albert was promoted from the Baltimore County Circuit Court to the Court of Special Appeals.
Judge Hennegan was elected to a full 15-year term in 1984, and served on the court until retiring in 1990.
"I tried many cases before him, and it was always a pleasure to have a case in front of him," said Baltimore County Circuit Judge John G. Turnbull II. "He got along well with lawyers, but every once in a while he'd return to his World War II days and take command.
"In his retirement, he came back to be a settlement judge and was instrumental in getting an enormous amount of cases through our court," he said.
"What I can say most about Gus was that he was a compassionate judge who treated everyone with civility," said Judge J. William Hinkel, who retired from the Baltimore County Circuit Court in 2002. "He never let anyone be ill at ease while in his courtroom. He was a decent man and a very fair judge."
He was a past president of the Baltimore County Bar Association, chairman of the Criminal Injury Compensation Commission and a former chairman of the Judicial Ethics Committee.
In 1943, Judge Hennegan married Catherine Hoffman, who died last year. For years, the couple made their home in Campus Hills. They later moved to Mays Chapel.
Judge Hennegan was an avid golfer and a member of the Hillendale Country Club. He also enjoyed collecting and reading books about World War II, and sailing his 35-foot Chris-Craft cabin cruiser.
He was a communicant of Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, Baltimore and Ware avenues in Towson, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Monday.
In addition to his son, who lives in Perry Hall, Judge Hennegan is survived by three daughters, Carol H. Murray of Jacksonville, Nancy L. Hennegan of Forest Hill and Gail K. Edelen of Sparks; a brother, Thomas Hennegan of Guam; and seven grandchildren.