Oregon State Bar Bulletin DECEMBER 2014
Profiles in the Law
Allen Reel Finds Peace and Inspiration in 'Travels With Purpose'
By Cliff Collins
“The Irish say that you die twice — once when you leave this world and again when they stop talking about you. I say leave them with lots to talk about.” — Allen Reel
Beaverton attorney Allen Reel says of his 16 years as a municipal judge, “I liked to make a difference in peoples’ lives.”
It’s a simple, not uncommon thought, but it neatly sums up both his life and his legal career.
Reel, who was admitted to the Oregon State Bar in 1974, continues to maintain his full sole practice, but he and his wife, Georgann, “are at the stage in life where it’s time to give back, not only financially, but with our time and talent, such as they are,” he says.
Since 1998, they have volunteered in Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Peru, and they sponsor four children in four countries: Honduras, Peru, Nicaragua and Mexico. The couple also have made what Reel terms “pilgrimages” to Italy, Switzerland, the Holy Land, Spain, Portugal, Turkey and Austria — some locations more than once. The couple spends time in countries “to learn the language, to meet the people and to volunteer our services,” he says. For example, four years ago, he and Georgann spent two weeks in Peru, some of it working in a village that had been destroyed by floods.
Reel, a devout Roman Catholic who thrives on what he calls “travel with purpose,” labels his journeys under three categories: pilgrimages, “with interaction with peoples of the same and different religious traditions”; volunteering, “which we see as a chance to be ambassadors, one people directly to another”; and language study and cultural immersion.
In 2008 Reel, then 65, and his wife walked 500 miles in 30 days as peregrinos, or pilgrims, on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, or “the way of St. James,” in Spain. Following a legendary medieval pilgrimage, they started at a small village at the foot of the Pyrenees, on the border between France and Spain. The next year Allen Reel walked on a nine-day trek through mountainous Honduras with residents of that country and the leader of the Christian organization Unbound.
The couple, who raised five children, keep in shape year-round by running and hiking, and Reel also walks when he traverses the golf course. For a time, “I went through the phase of a mountain-climbing guy,” scaling Mount Hood, Mount Rainier and lesser peaks, he says.
In 2013, Reel and longtime friend Jerry Garland did a 10-day stint in Honduras with Habitat for Humanity, on what Robin Cooper, community outreach manager for Habitat’s Bend Area office, says the organization calls a “build trip.” About a dozen volunteers helped people in a small community construct concrete houses.
“Allen is an amazing force,” Cooper observes. “He is very strong” physically and can carry such heavy loads that, to younger people such as herself, it “puts us to shame,” she says. “Allen was a part of everything we did. He understands coming into another country and other peoples’ culture.” His Spanish was a boon to everyone, too, she adds.
Several of his pilgrimages have been led by Benedictine monks, and the Reels are oblates — or lay members — of Mt. Angel Abbey. “We follow the liturgy, the prayer life of the monks,” Reel explains. “We try to follow that as much as we can in our daily lives.” Sometimes the couple makes retreats at the abbey and spends time with the monks directly. Being an oblate has had a “tremendous influence on my life,” he says.
After returning home from trips, Reel “wants to share that excitement, his spiritual feelings, with others,” says Karen Eskeldson, his legal assistant for 26 years. “That’s what comes out in those writings. He’s a very good writer; he’s got that gift.”
Reel is something of a Renaissance man. He plays classical guitar and for years has penned poetry and prose, much of it inspired by his travels and insights gained from interacting with disadvantaged people in foreign countries. He also has published two books, The Art of Undersong: A Potpourri of Poetry, in 2011, which contains a poem dedicated to the people of Honduras and Nicaragua, and Potsherds of Peace: Poems, Prose & Philology, in 2014. Over the years, he has penned several articles for the OSB Bulletin, many of them humorous pieces chronicling his experiences as a municipal judge.
He sees parallels between his profession and his avocation of writing: “Lawyers should be very precise in their use of language.” Earlier in his career, Reel taught legal writing, as well as pleading and practice procedures, at his alma mater, Lewis & Clark Law School.
“If I had it to do over again — and none of us do — I think I would be a law professor,” he says. “I love to teach and write.”
Working for Peace
Reel was born in Sheridan, Mont., the son of a railroad-manager father and a mother from a ranching family. He worked his way through college and obtained a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Montana State University. His first job was with Aetna Life & Casualty as a claims adjuster, in Seattle and Yakima, Wash.
However, he says, “The law was always something I was interested in,” and he left Aetna after four years to work in Portland as a paralegal for Pozzi, Wilson & Atchison, where he moonlighted at law school at Lewis & Clark. He then clerked for Justice Thomas H. Tongue of the Oregon Supreme Court. “It was a great year I spent there,” he says of the clerkship. “He was a great mentor.” After finishing fifth in his law class, Reel landed a position with Kennedy, King & McClurg in Portland, where he became a partner and had a trial practice, specializing in handling personal injury and medical malpractice cases.
His next stop six years later was appointment as a municipal judge for the city of Beaverton, but he also simultaneously practiced law at the Beaverton firm Moomaw, Miller & Reel. In 1997, he went into sole practice, moving his office into the lower level of his home two years afterward.
Reel is “very neat and organized, efficient and orderly, [and] he is resistant to change,” observes Eskeldson. For example, “It took me to say, ‘We are going to get the Internet for the office.’ He did so reluctantly at first. He didn’t do email.” Later, she was shocked when he got an iPhone. “He’s become this emailer and texter.” Georgann Reel keeps the books, does the banking and obtains office supplies. Allen Reel says he went into a home office thinking it would be temporary, but “it has worked out extremely well.”
His practice centers on wills, probates, trust administration and estate planning. For 25 years until this fall, Reel gave monthly talks at a senior center on estate planning and elder law. “I’ve been blessed with a great practice,” primarily through clients from his church.
Reel has been extremely active in bar service throughout his career, for the OSB and the Washington County Bar Association, including service on the OSB Ethics Committee, the Professional Responsibility Board and the Disciplinary Board.
Next year, Reel plans to rejoin Habitat for Humanity for a trip to the Dominican Republic. With sponsorships by groups such as that, Habitat for Humanity and Mt. Angel Abbey, “We are not [seen] as the ugly Americans,” he says. “We’ve become very close to the families we’ve stayed with and revisited them over the years.”
They’ve spent time in “some of the worst parts” of countries. “We’ve seen some iffy situations.” Comfort is not the object on most ventures, as their stays occur commonly in modest quarters such as convents and retreat houses, he says.
Friends ask the Reels, “What are you doing going to these places?” But Reel says: “Safety doesn’t concern me too much. In foreign countries, I’m extremely careful with the food and water.” In general, though, “I’m careful, but we’re not afraid or concerned for our safety.”
His journeys inspired his newest book, which is devoted to peace. “During our travels, we have been privileged to discover peace poles in various place,” he says. “We are planning to erect peace poles in Oregon in the near future.” He explains that official peace poles are the work of the Peace Pole Project and carry the message, “May Peace Prevail on Earth,” in the language of the country the pole is in, and often in other languages.
“There are tens of thousands of peace poles in 180 countries, dedicated as monuments to peace,” he writes in the book. “A peace pole is an internationally recognized symbol of the hopes and dreams of the entire human family, standing vigil in silent prayer for peace on earth.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cliff Collins is a Portland-area freelance writer and frequent contributor to the Bulletin. Reach him at email@example.com.
© 2014 Cliff Collins