In 1949, Bob enrolled at the University of Alabama on an ROTC scholarship and capped his career when he was elected President of the Student Government Association at the Law School. In October 1953, Bob married Helen Rainey whom he met at the University. The couple moved to Washington, D. C. where Bob was assigned to Army duty at the Pentagon. His service included participation as a member of the Army’s legal team in the Army-McCarthy hearings.
Bob and Helen returned to live in Montgomery in late 1954 where Bob served as a law clerk to Justice James Mayfield of the Supreme Court of Alabama. When his clerkship ended, he took a position as a lawyer with the United States Department of Labor. Two years later he entered private practice in the firm of Hogan and Callaway in Birmingham. He had a varied practice but he particularly enjoyed trial work.
In 1960 he became a member of the firm Jenkins, Cole, Callaway, & Vance. He remained a member through its various changes until he assumed his position on the Federal Appellate Bench in 1978.
Judge Vance’s only elected public offices were those of chairman and member of the State Democratic Executive Committee. In those capacities he had a huge influence on politics in the state of Alabama. He served as chairman from 1966 to 1977 during a period of great political division and unrest in Alabama. He spearheaded the efforts to racially integrate the Democratic Party leadership in Alabama and to unite and move the party forward. He brought about unprecedented changes to the political landscape of Alabama.
During his career, Bob Vance was an opponent of segregation. Also he was an advocate for equal voting rights as evidenced by his participation in the landmark ”one man-one vote” case of Reynolds v. Sims that overturned Alabama’s method of apportioning seats in its legislature. He believed in the law and that the rule of law must overrule political expediency and the pressures of contrary public sentiment.
Some of the seconding letters in support of Judge Vance’s nomination to the Lawyers’ Hall of Fame give a true picture of how well he was regarded. Here are examples:
“He stood up against racism when very few white men in this state were willing to do so. And he stood up for consumers against powerful corporate interests when, quite frankly, virtually no one in the nation did so”.
“Bob should not be considered for this honor because of his untimely death, but because of the contributions he made during his lifetime to our profession and to the state of Alabama, the state he dearly loved and served”.
“Outside my parents, no single individual influenced my life more than Bob
Vance. He taught me the importance of research, writing, preparation, being strong in the pursuit of your goals, but being circumspect in the process. I have always considered Bob Vance to be my mentor”.
And finally, “Judge Vance had a distinguished and varied legal career before his appointment to the Circuit Court of Appeals. He was a professional of the highest order and I have no doubt that if it were not for his tragic death, he would have been a strong candidate for a seat on the United States Supreme Court”.
In December 1989, Judge Robert Vance was killed by the explosion of a package bomb
which had been delivered through the mail to his home. The legal community and the community at large deeply felt his loss. The Alabama State Bar is proud to include him in the Alabama Lawyers’ Hall of Fame.