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story.lead_photo.caption “I am extremely proud of the growth and success our law firm has enjoyed. It is a direct reflection of the exceptional quality and professionalism of all our attorneys and staff. I’m fortunate to be associated with such a talented and dedicated group.” -Allan Gates ( Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Thomas Metthe)

The image is the canine version of a baseball trading card. Created for Little Rock lawyer Allan Gates, it pictures his poodle, Lucy.

Now 6 years old, Lucy began life blind and was adopted as a rescued dog. She sees pretty well these days after cataract surgery. And she has a loving mission, thanks to Gates.

Active in the volunteer group ABLEPaws, he takes her to hospitals and hospices as "Lucy the Therapy Dog." That's the name on her card, marked with a paw print.

"When we visit people who are ill or emotionally stressed, it is so satisfying to see how much comfort a dog can bring," Gates says. Long active in public-minded volunteer work, he is a partner at the Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates & Woodyard firm and a pioneer in environmental law.

"When someone is responsive to Lucy, it melts your heart," he adds. "That's particularly true if she gets up on the bed and cuddles with them. You can just see the weight of the world leaving their shoulders."

Lucy is one of four standard poodles -- along with Coco, Danny and Lilly -- who share a home on the fringe of Hillcrest with the 72-year-old lawyer and his wife, Karen.

"Some people who read this probably will recognize me only as 'the Poodle Man,'" he says. "Most every morning, I walk my dogs from our house to Allsopp Park. We walk through the woods and back.

"I'm walking four dogs at once, plus sometimes two or three of my daughter Liz's dogs, also all standard poodles. Sometimes people ask to take a picture. Sometimes they ask if any of the dogs are for sale. Sometimes they think I'm a professional dog walker."

A deft raconteur, Gates tells of regular morning encounters with a group of jogging neighborhood women, "back when I would jog or shuffle along in shorts and T-shirt. They would always stop to pet the dogs."

One such summer morning, after showering and donning a business suit, he rode an elevator up to his downtown office. A woman in the elevator "seemed vaguely familiar. She was looking at me and I was looking at her. She got out on our floor, where it turned out she was starting work with us.

"She was one of the ladies in that jogging group. As the door opened, she looked at me again with this flash of recognition and said, 'I know you. You're the Poodle Man. I didn't recognize you with your clothes on.'"

Many decades before Gates became "the Poodle Man," he picked up the boyhood nickname of "Buzzy," which a few longtime friends still call him. It was coined by his late father, Jim, who operated a life-insurance agency with the future lawyer's grandfather, Allan.

"Throughout my school years here, I was known as Buzzy," Gates says. "In fact, when my dad's secretary signed me up for Social Security at age 12, the form listed me as 'Buzzy Gates.'

"I only discovered that when I went to the Social Security office four years ago after the death of my mother, Mary Jane [who'd been chairwoman of the mathematics department for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock]. The agent said I'd better change it to my given name, so I did."

Until he was a sixth-grader, Gates lived with his parents and older sister Anne, later an education professor, on what was then wooded property and is now the bustling site of Park Plaza mall at Markham and University. Both those roadways were once unpaved at the intersection, and he had a boyhood chore of hosing down Markham to settle the dust.

After that property was sold to developers, the family moved to the Heights. After the Little Rock school crisis, during which his mother had been active in the Women's Emergency Committee opposing continued racial segregation, he moved away from the city for the first time. He was sent to study for three years at The Hill School, a private institution in Pottstown, Pa.

Then his horizons further widened when he was accepted into an English Speaking Union foreign-exchange program to spend his senior year at Eastbourne College on England's southern coast.

"England is where I developed a passion for history," he says. "The subject just came alive, in a setting where everything was so much older than back home."

During the year, he went skiing with a friend's family in the Italian Alps. In the summer, he traveled to Spain, where he ran with the bulls at Pamplona's famous Fiesta San Fermin.

"Well, I sort of ran with the bulls," he notes. "There's running the whole distance down narrow streets to the bull ring, where people sometimes get gored. And than there's running a block or two through a square where the route is much wider. That's what I did."


Back in America, Gates enrolled at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., "where the thing that grabbed me immediately was the deep historical tradition. My window in my dormitory looked out over Connecticut Hall at the statue of an alumnus, the patriot Nathan Hale, class of 1773."

He chuckles about a Yale requirement of that time: "Everyone had to pose for posture pictures, nearly nude -- front, back and profile. The idea was to see if your posture was good. If you flunked, which about a third of us did, you had to go to posture classes until you passed. I was sent there, and so was football star Calvin Hill."

After earning a degree from Yale, Gates decided against graduate study to become a history professor. Instead he enrolled at Vanderbilt University Law School in Nashville, Tenn. There he met nursing student Karen Kinsley, and they married on Dec. 16, 1969, in Urbana, Ohio. She eventually earned a master's degree and worked as a nurse.

Their older daughter, now Lori Gates Schuyler, was born two years later. A published historian and vice president for planning and policy at Virginia's University of Richmond, she and husband Ridge Schuyler have two teenage sons, Charlie and Sam.

Younger daughter Liz Gates, born in 1976, and husband Greg Spontak, have 3-year-old twins Andy and Tallulah Jane. Liz, who has law and master's degrees, is assistant dean at UAMS College of Public Health.

Back in Little Rock, Allan Gates served from 1972 to 1974 as a law clerk for Chief Judge Pat Mahaffy of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. He then was hired for one of the most prestigious jobs open to a young lawyer, as a U.S. Supreme Court clerk -- for Associate Justice Harry Blackmun in the 1974-75 term.

"It was like lightning striking," he says. "It still kind of boggles my mind. My wife and I loaded up a rental truck and headed for Washington. We ended up living there for five years and had so much fun being in the District."

He still reveres Blackmun, who "was such an amazing man that he has become my internal personal hero. When I think about things that seem difficult to decide, I close my eyes and say, 'What would Justice Blackmun do?'"

His memories of the Supreme Court include playing basketball on a concrete court located directly over the main chambers. He calls it "the court above the Court."

He once collided there with Associate Justice Byron "Whizzer" White, who'd been a star National Football League running back: "He went flat on his back. All of us just froze. But he got up and said, 'You hit me a good lick!' When we met again years later, we laughed about it."


After working several years for the Washington firm of Steptoe & Johnson, where he handled his first environmental case, Gates returned to Little Rock and joined Mitchell, Williams. He was the 16th lawyer in a firm that now has more than 90, with additional offices in Rogers and Jonesboro, as well as Austin, Texas.

"I am extremely proud of the growth and success our law firm has enjoyed," he says. "It is a direct reflection of the exceptional quality and professionalism of all our attorneys and staff. I'm fortunate to be associated with such a talented and dedicated group."

He credits mentor Maurice Mitchell for encouraging him to focus on environmental law. His stature is reflected by his presidency of the prestigious American College of Environmental Lawyers.

"I consider my practice primarily a matter of problem solving, and not a matter of adversarial confrontation," he observes. "I particularly enjoy the mix of science, law and strategic planning involved in this field."

On the hot-button issue of global warming, he says: "Virtually all environmental lawyers accept the basic science that the climate is changing dramatically, and that human activity is a major factor driving that change. It is not clear to me how successful we will be in reversing the trend, but it is crucial to make the effort."

Walter Wright, a Mitchell, Williams colleague in environmental law, lauds Gates for "seeking solutions in sometimes contentious matters that resolve the issue in a way satisfactory to some extent for each of the parties. This is particularly important in our field, where a matter is rarely black and white but more typically some shade of gray."

Gates' deep interest in history is reflected in one avocation. He is a devoted collector of antique stereo photographs, also known as stereoviews. The heart of his collection is more than 650 scenes from 19th-century Arkansas, probably the single largest cache of its kind. He explains the long-ago popularity of these mostly forgotten images:

"Stereoviews are paired photographic images taken from slightly different locations to give a three-dimensional impression when seen through a stereo viewing device. In the last half of the 19th century and early in the 20th century, millions of stereoviews and viewers were sold. They depicted travel scenes, catastrophes, battlefields and major events."


His community work over the years has involved serving as the first board chairman of the Old State House Museum Associates. He was a charter member of the board of trustees for Nature Conservancy's Arkansas chapter. He is a bulwark of the area's Yale University alumni, some of whom interview students who've applied to Ivy League schools but can't travel to campus.

"I have a bit of a pattern of being a volunteer starter and enjoying the building of an organization, and then feeling really good as I turn things over to new people," he says.

For now, Gates is mainly focused on the therapy-dog mission of ABLEPaws. Its volunteers visit locations including Arkansas Children's Hospital, Arkansas Heart Hospital, Good Shepherd Community, Inspiration Day Treatment, Methodist Family Health Group, Pulaski County Juvenile Detention Center, and Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport (to help lower the anxiety of waiting passengers).

"Allan and Lucy are a wonderful team," says lawyer and airport board member Meredith Catlett, a founder and past president of ABLEPaws. "They have been inspirational to all of us who volunteer with them and masterful in giving special care to those in need. Allan will laugh and say he merely follows Lucy's lead, but I know he is just as great as Lucy."

Gates finds varied satisfactions in his visits with Lucy: "For one thing, it's fun doing anything with your dog. But there is also something about the unconditional affection and nonjudgmental attention that a dog gives a person. It's kind of magical. That's why people love dogs. That's why they're so successful as a species interacting with humans."

Cherishing a recent newspaper obituary sent by nurses at a hospice, he reports: "We'd seen that patient every Sunday for four or five weeks before she passed away. The end of the death notice thanked doctors, nurses, volunteers ... and Lucy."


Allan Gates

• DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: Nov. 29, 1946, Little Rock

• IF I WEREN'T A LAWYER, I'D BE: A historian.

• I'M PROUDEST OF: My two daughters, Lori and Liz.

• MY GREATEST SATISFACTION IN LIFE IS: My marriage to a wonderful woman, Karen.

• THE BEST ADVICE I'VE EVER GOTTEN IS: Take vacations every time you get the chance.

• IF I'VE LEARNED ONE THING IN LIFE, IT'S THAT: There is always more to learn.

• MY GUILTY PLEASURE IS: Snacking on potato chips and salted nuts.

• THE LAST BOOK I READ AND ENJOYED WAS: Dispatches From Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, by Richard Grant.

• MY FAVORITE MOVIE IS: The Maltese Falcon.

• THE FOUR PEOPLE I'D INVITE TO MY FANTASY DINNER ARE: John Muir, Eleanor Roosevelt, Benjamin Franklin and Frederick Douglass.

• IN MY SPARE TIME, I: Enjoy photography.

• MY BIGGEST PET PEEVE IS: Rude or arrogant people.

• MY WIFE WOULD SAY I AM: Always late getting home.

• MY FAVORITE MEAL IS: Good barbecue.

• BUT I WOULD NEVER EAT: Stewed okra.

• THE ONE WORD TO SUM ME UP: Enthusiastic

Photo by Thomas Metthe
“When someone is responsive to Lucy, it melts your heart. That’s particularly true if she gets up on the bed and cuddles with them. You can just see the weight of the world leaving their shoulders.” -Allan Gates

High Profile on 08/04/2019

Print Headline: HIGH PROFILE: Environmental lawyer Allan Gates makes volunteer visits with therapy dog


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Archived Comments

  • PopMom
    August 4, 2019 at 7:40 a.m.

    Allan makes a great deal of money representing the pollution industry. It would have been nicer to feature a real environmentalist in the paper.