William Lemon, Sr.

William Jacob Lemon was born October 25, 1932, in Covington, VA.  He was one of six children born to James Lemon of Botetourt County, and Elizabeth Wilson Lemon of Wayne County West Virginia. When Bill was young, his father moved to Covington to work at the Low Moor Iron Works.  Later he would move the family to St. Albans West Virginia and eventually, in 1941 back to Allegheny County, where he became an equipment mechanic at the paper mill, where he worked until retirement. Young Bill began working part time jobs as young as seven, splitting wood, and carrying in coal for an elderly neighborhood widow. As he grew so did the odd jobs like mowing lawns, delivering the local paper, and caddying on the Westvaco six-hole golf course. 

One of the men he caddied for was an attorney who told him he should go to Washington and Lee and become a lawyer.  That comment planted a seed in Bill’s mind that would guide him through his early adult years. “Bill” was educated in Covington schools.  He began his studies in the general curriculum, but on the advice of a teacher, switched to college prep. In high school Bill was elected each year to a school wide office in student government. At the end of his junior year, he was selected by the faculty to attend Boys State.  He was president of his senior class and participated in intramural sports. Bill says he attempted sports but was “too skinny” and without talent.

In September of 1951 all that studying paid off and he began his college career at Washington & Lee.  He had worked at the paper mill that summer and saved enough for his first year’s tuition and fees – About $500.While the Korean conflict raged on overseas, Bill hoped to return to the paper mill the summer following his freshman year, but a strike prevented him from working. His plan B was to enlist in the Army.  So, college had to wait.  Yet, Bill knew the GI bill would pay for his remaining education and allow him to purchase a home.

With the Korean war winding down, soldiers were being assigned to Europe and Bill was sent to Salzburg, Austria where he worked as an ordinance clerk in an infantry regiment as a corporal. 

Weekends and evenings were typically free, allowing young Bill to pursue his early interest in travel and experience Salzburg. By 1957 he had completed his undergrad degree in history and then his Juris Doctor degree in 1959.No stranger to hard work, during college he took jobs in a Lexington men’s clothing store six days a week, and during the summers of 55-57 he once again worked summers in the paper mill.

During college he met and courted New York native Barbara Boyle.  She had come to the Kappa Sigma Fraternity house to assist in the freshman rush. Bill finished law school while Barbara taught at Parry McClure High School in Buena Vista and Lee Junior High in Roanoke, until the birth of their first child, Sarah. Before all those great success stories could take place, Bill had to launch is law career! Which he did in Roanoke in 1959 when he took a job with the firm Martin, Martin, and Hopkins in Roanoke.

Early in his career, Bill engaged in general practice, with cases running the gamut from general district court to estate planning and health care law. When William Hopkins was elected to the State Senate, where he would serve for 20 years, Bill took over some of his caseload and became exposed to a more sophisticated type of legal work. In 1964 he became General counsel to a mortgage originating and servicing company. That same year, a client in the nursing home business came calling and wanted local participation.  Bill and Barbara borrowed some money and became founding stockholders in Liberty Nursing Homes. Bill was just six years out of law school. He would later buy out the interest of one of the other partners. 

From 1965 to 1972, Liberty operated four nursing homes in Virginia and two in North Carolina.  During these years, Bill was in on the ground floor navigating the newly formed Medicare program.   In 1972, Lemon became the sole shareholder in Liberty Nursing Homes Inc. which grew to 11 facilities in VA and NC. In 1981 Bill sold Liberty to a public company.  But the sale did not include other nursing homes owned by Bill and Barbara. He has kept one assisted living facility in Winchester, VA – The Willows at Meadow Branch that he maintains to this day.

The Lemon family are investors, for instance in the Wells Fargo Tower in Roanoke, among other many other projects. Bill’s love for real estate has been driven by the similarities to law, working with principles, and understanding issues. In describing his legal journey, he is quick to add “people should not be afraid of work, you must be dedicated, and most times the hours are beyond 9-5pm.   Bill likes to share an idiom that was repeated in the farming communities “The harder you work the more successful you become.”  Bill worked so hard that his whole law career has been sustained with what is now Martin, Hopkins, and Lemon PC.

Bill is Emeritus Trustee for Washington & Lee University, The George C. Marshall Foundation, and North Cross School and the Explore Park board.  He is a past president of the Roanoke Bar Association in 1983, and a recipient of the Frank “Bo” W. Rogers, Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award from the Virginia Bar Association, he is still a part of the Virginia Bar Association and the American Bar Association.  Currently he is a board member for the Taubman Museum of Art and the Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation.

Over the years, he, and Barbara, who passed October 7, 2014, were trustees at Second Presbyterian Church.  Barbara was present at the founding of the Center in the Square, she was past president of Western Virginia History Museum, Children’s Theater, Jefferson’s Poplar Forest and founding president of Western Virginia Land Trust now the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy.   Barbara was founder of the Shedd School which assisted children with specific reading and learning difficulties, she was a Trustee of Randolph Macon Women’s College and Union Presbyterian Church, and she was a founding member of the Foundation for the Roanoke Valley.   As Bill shared “we like to give back and help build the community.” The Lemons were among the first to have their “Briar Oak Farms” certified organic under the USDA National Organic Program.  Their farms in Botetourt and Craig counties raise certified organic grass for as many as 1200 head of Black Angus Cattle. For good measure, they started bee keeping in 1975.

Growing up in Covington did not provide much opportunity for travel.  As a teenager, sometimes he would hitch hike in any direction just to see what was on the other side of the mountain.  Later in life vacations were family focused, and he always reminded his children that he was taking them along on his vacations.  His travels have taken him to every continent except Antarctica.  He and Barbara most enjoyed the Italian Alps, Salzburg, plus some villages in Germany.    He continues to venture to Argentina with close friends.  Bill enjoys hunting upland birds in the States and Argentina, Mexico, and Scotland.

In reflecting upon the important milestones in his life, he mentions the people and schoolteachers who gave him advice and encouragement.  His meeting and marrying Barbara, and his education at Washington and Lee. Also, his time spent at Martin, Hopkins and Lemon, his opportunity to become a part of the long- term health care business at its beginning, growing the business and then selling it to provide the capital to invest in new ventures.  From the day he caddied for that attorney in Covington who planted the seed that Bill would attend W & L, to the successful legacy he has today – the journey has been buoyed by humble beginnings in Alleghany County — to hard work and wonderful connections to people interested in success and ethics.

William Lemon, Sr. was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2016.

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