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Harley Stepp, legendary trial lawyer, dies at age 87

W. Harley Stepp Jr. died Saturday at age 87. W. Harley Stepp Jr. died Saturday at age 87.

William Harley Stepp Jr., a legendary trial lawyer, community leader, successful real estate investor and sometimes developer, died on Saturday at age 87.

Family members and friends remembered with fondness and admiration the old lion of the Henderson County bar whose presence was unmistakable, skill in the courtroom renowned and devotion to clients rock solid.
“I think the thing my dad taught me the most was he truly loved people,” said his son, Christopher, who joined his dad’s law practice in 1991 after he graduated from law school. “He loved his clients, he loved helping people, he loved helping people through the difficult times of their life. It was a great honor to him. I admired those qualities about him.”
Chris’s wife, Heather, recalled that her father-in-law used his considerable sales skills to recruit his son to come home and join the practice.
“Harley made it clear that he believed in Chris, that he loved him and he really desired for Chris to come back and practice law with him,” she said.

Chris recalled his father’s consuming passion, determination and devotion to a client on trial for his life for a double murder.
“It was a tough job,” he said. “It took a lot out of him. He worked very, very hard and it changed our whole family life for a long time until he got through that case. … Things that he taught me about the courtoom? I think that my dad had a natural presence about him and I think he wanted to as much as possible to be in control and for his clients to know he was in control.”

Henderson County Commissioner Michael Edney announced Stepp’s death during a meeting of the Board of Commissioners on Monday night, mentioning that he also had served as county attorney about 40 years ago.
“Harley, big Democrat, Don Garren, big Republican, they had a law practice together, Garren and Stepp, many years ago,” Edney said later. “Harley was one of the best, well-known trial lawyers ever. Did a lot of criminal defense work. He was also smart enough to invest in a lot of real estate.”
Edney got early training and valuable guidance from both Stepp, a classmate of Edney’s mother at Flat Rock High School in the 1950s, and Garren.
“I was a young lawyer and being family friends (with Stepp) he would show me the ropes, so to speak, and show me where I was making mistakes and how to do things better,” he said. While he was a law student at the University of South Carolina, Edney worked for Garren doing title searches.
A lifelong resident of Henderson County, he was born July 10, 1934, to William Harley Stepp Sr. and Arvenia Jones Stepp. He graduated from Flat Rock High School, where he met the love of his life and wife of 64 years, Mary Margaret Shipman. Harley earned his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in 1960 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and went on to complete his law degree from UNC in 1963.
While an undergraduate at Chapel Hill, he enlisted in the U.S. Army through the G.I. bill and served in the 549th AAA Battalion, also known as the Knights of the Blue Nose. Following his military service, he returned to UNC to complete his studies, and more importantly, to reunite with Margaret, who was finishing her degree at UNC Women’s College. He and Margaret married in his senior year at Carolina. During law school, he served as the legislative correspondent at the Institute of Government, covering the activity at the state Legislature. Some of their favorite stories came from their early years there in Chapel Hill. The combination of Harley’s enthusiasm for a new venture and Margaret’s grounded approach led them to open their first business, a used furniture shop on Main Street in Carrboro, even while he completed his law degree.
Harley set up his practice on Main Street upon returning to Hendersonville. He brought his trademark color and zeal to all he did, and this included the courtroom. He loved the folks he represented, and he was grateful to advocate for countless people throughout his decades-long career. Apart from practicing law, he and Margaret continued to enjoy partnering in entrepreneurship as well. Some of these ventures included running a concrete plant, opening the Quarter House restaurant on Asheville Highway and operating motels in Hendersonville, at Folly Beach, South Carolina, and in Florida. He began buying thoroughbreds in the 1980s, and enjoyed some exciting years following his horses on the circuit, and winning a major stakes race at Keeneland in 1995.
In 1985, he was awarded the Order of the Longleaf Pine by then Gov. Jim Hunt, a law school classmate.
“Gov. Hunt used to stay at his house when he visited Western North Carolina,” Heather Stepp said.
In 2000, Harley retired from his law practice but not from his zest for life. He remained active in real estate, dabbled in antique cars, continued to be an active reader of old classics and mystery novels and enjoyed time at the South Carolina coast.
Harley passionately loved life, and his foremost passion was his family. Into his children and grandchildren he generously poured out his love, laughter and a lifetime of memories that family members will forever cherish. He manifested his wisdom to his children and grandchildren in countless ways, and the earliest came in his old school advice to us when being flung off of a pony. He’d firmly and gently say, “You get back on that horse and show him who’s boss!”
“We will always hear him reminding us of one of his favorite and true platitudes: never give up.,” the family said in the obituary posted by Shuler Funeral Home. “We are forever grateful for this legacy of grit and optimism.”
In addition to Christopher and Heather and his wife, Margaret, Stepp is survived by his daughter, Marley Beckmann (Ted); and grandchildren Samuel Stepp, Alex Imm and Anthony Imm; a step-grandson Charlie Beckmann; and a brother, Benjamin.
The family thanked the Rev. Craig Halford for his consolation and friendship, Four Seasons Hospice, and many special caregivers who supported Harley Stepp and his family.
A gathering of friends and family will be 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 9, at Forest Lawn Funeral Home. Heavy refreshments will be served. In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to First Contact, 106 Chadwick Avenue, Hendersonville N.C., 28792, and Four Seasons Foundation, 211 North Main Street, Hendersonville, N.C. 28792.