Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the middle initial of Robert G "Hap" Fry. The story has been corrected.
Joyce Caldwell and Judy Willits have several things in common.
• Both started as law firm secretaries and made the transition to paralegal.
• Both enjoy the daily challenges.
• Both work for Robert G “Hap” Fry.
Together they have more than 70 years of experience at the Fry & Elder Law Firm — and counting.
Caldwell started with C. Lawrence Elder in 1969 and after his death in 1972 worked for Fry. That employment continued until 1981 when she worked briefly for another attorney, and then moved to Connecticut. She maintained contact with Fry and rejoined the firm in 1997.
The entry to the legal community wasn’t smooth for Willits.
She quit her first law office job after one week because of a bad experience with an attorney. An employment counselor talked her into trying to work with another law firm.
This time Willits was successful and was with several law firms before joining Fry & Elder in the 1980s.
“I just tell everyone I have been working here 30 years. I quit counting after that,” she said.
Caldwell, reflecting on her paralegal role, said no two days are the same.
A person is constantly learning, assisting individuals with family issues either through a marriage, a modification of support after a divorce decree or other issues. The atmosphere always is changing, and there are so many people with diverse problems.
Willits who started as a file clerk at Fry & Elder and now works as a backup to Fry, maintains files and helps prepare for trial.
“When Mr. Fry says to do this or that, I am so familiar with the procedure that I can do whatever needs to be done,” she said. “I handle most of his really bad divorce cases that involve custody, abuse — stuff like that.”
It is not the happiest side of life and one has to be careful to not get involved with the issues, she said.
“You have people that you know deep in your heart should have primary custodial care of the children,” Willits said.
Then there are cases when one wonders who is the least worst parent, she said. Parties in these cases do not put children first.
Caldwell said one of her high points with the firm involved two custody cases involving fathers and young children.
Sadly, she said, “the mothers were unstable and we were fortunate enough to get full custody of the children for the fathers. We have watched them grow to become productive, good students, and both are doing very well. One is in high school, the other college. It is very satisfying knowing we have been part of changing someone’s life for the better.”
One of the high points for Willits was when she started going to court with Fry.
“He (Fry) treats me more like an attorney than an assistant,” she said. “He trusts and depends on me.”
Willits and Caldwell were with the firm at 906 S. Cheyenne for many years, and then the offices moved to 1630 S. Main St. in 2015. The new space was quickly outgrown and another move was made, this time to 1616 S. Main St.
The family law practice focus changed in 2010 when Shane Henry and Aaron Bundy joined the firm.
Guardianship and probate areas were added to the practice, and services have been expanded to criminal and personal injury law. Immigration law recently was added.
Willits was happy at the Cheyenne office, but said she has adapted to change because the new office is nice and the people are wonderful.
“There are a lot of young people that keep you young,” she said. “They are an excellent group of attorneys and seem to work well together.”
Willits works for the younger attorneys and notes they do things a bit differently.
“I just tell them they have to show me how they want things done,” she said.
Caldwell also made adjustments to the new offices and people.
“I come to the office two days a week and am able to keep up with the firm, the goals and aspirations of people,” she said. “I do all the financial work for Mr. Fry.”
Caldwell is semi-retired, and she and her husband Randy take many opportunities to visit grandchildren in Oklahoma City and Virginia.
Willits said she has no retirement plans at this time.