Mr. Jon C. Poulson, long-time Eastern Shore trial attorney and former three-term Accomack Commonwealth’s Attorney, departed this earthly life on Nov. 5, 2023.
Jon, as he always preferred to be called, was born on Nov. 5, 1942, in Greensboro, N.C. At the age of 2, after the divorce of his parents, he came to live on the Eastern Shore with his paternal grandparents, Charles H. Poulson, a prominent Eastern Shore farmer and businessman, and his wife Annie Poulson, of Nelsonia.
Jon attended the public schools of Accomack County, graduating from the former Atlantic High School in 1961. He was salutatorian of his graduating class and was voted “best all-around” by his classmates. Jon was a talented high school athlete and lettered all four years in football, baseball, and track. Through his high school years, he worked on his grandfather’s farm and at the truck scales in Nelsonia.
After high school, Jon attended and graduated from the University of Virginia in 1965. He subsequently attended the T.C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond, graduating in June 1968. Jon finished eighth in his graduating class and led the class in the fields of domestic relations and Virginia procedure. After graduation, he secured a Clerkship with Chief Justice John W. Eggleston of the Supreme Court of Virginia. After the conclusion of his Clerkship in June 1969, he returned to the Eastern Shore to practice law for the next 51 years.
In November 1975, he was elected to the first of his three terms as the Accomack Commonwealth’s Attorney. Jon was an aggressive prosecutor who made himself available to officers on a 24-hour basis for legal advice, and he routinely appeared at the scene of serious crimes. He made it a practice of not “plea bargaining” and necessarily tried many criminal jury trials.
During his 11 1/2 years in office, those trials involved some of the premier trial attorneys of the era. At the end of his second term, he had tried 51 felony criminal jury trials, resulting in 45 convictions. On one occasion in a period of two weeks, he tried two, two-day jury trials, both resulting in convictions. Jon made it a practice to publicly acknowledge the efforts of the investigating officer or officers in a case; he had a strong respect for members of law enforcement. Upon his retirement from the office in the spring of 1987, the Eastern Shore News wrote:
“For 11 years, Commonwealth’s Attorney Jon Poulson, of Accomack, has been putting away criminals and building a reputation as a tough prosecutor who seldom plea-bargains, often recommends maximum sentence, and is willing to help officers hunt down suspects.”
After leaving the Commonwealth’s Attorney position, Jon built a successful trial practice. He carried a prestigious “AV” peer rating in the Martindale-Hubbell legal directory, denoting “that the attorney has reached the highest of professional excellence and is recognized for the highest levels of skill and integrity” by his peers in the profession.
Over those years, he represented many police officers in personal matters, many public officials, other attorneys, and judicial family members, as well as citizens from all walks of life. Retired State Trooper Walter Marks always referred to Jon as the “common folks’ attorney.” That said, he was still a little excited when a retired NFL player or other “celebrity” came to him after receiving a traffic ticket while traveling down Route 13; he enjoyed hearing about the interesting lives of others.
Jon served two three-year terms as the Shore’s representative of the Virginia State Bar Council, the governing body of the State Bar. He served eight years on the Bar’s Standing Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law, serving as the chairman for two years.
Jon was extremely personable and did not view himself as being a “silk stocking” lawyer. He liked nothing better than to pull a joke on a friend. In one well-known incident, the tables were turned. As he was walking out of General District Court one day in a starched shirt and dress pants, Jon discovered that his new belt didn’t work well as he nearly lost his pants. The judge had to excuse the clerk who became nearly hysterical with laughter. The “suspender fund” was quickly created, and the judge actually wrote a “ditty” about the incident, which was recorded by a musical group in Tidewater. Jon simply laughed along with the rest of Accomack County.
In addition to serving for many years as Accomack County Attorney, he served as attorney for the Accomack County School Board. During those years, the school board was involved in its building program, and there was extensive litigation involving land acquisition and construction – architect issues. Jon also served as Chincoteague’s Town Attorney for some 25 years. Given his love of animals, he volunteered as counsel for the SPCA – Eastern Shore. Because of ongoing health issues, he retired from the practice of law in 2020.
Jon was active in his community. He was a Little League baseball and football coach for many years with Central Accomack. He was longtime member and president of the Eastern Shore Jaycees, the Onancock Rotary Club, and the Accomack County Bar Association.
Jon was a superb public speaker. In addition to emceeing several retirement affairs, he delivered the eulogies at the funerals of retired Circuit Court Judge N. Wescott Jacob, former Accomack Treasurer and later Maryland Delegate D. Page Elmore, and longtime friend and Eastern Shore entrepreneur James T. Lunn Jr.
For many years, Jon and Shirley had a neat cottage on Cedar Island facing the ocean. The cottage had a big, screened porch and many mornings they watched the sunrise and later had breakfast on that porch. There were trips down the beach in an old Jeep, oftentimes with a drink in hand. After the “Perfect Storm” took the cottage, they enjoyed weekend trips traveling the Chesapeake Bay on their trawler. There were trips to Alaska, South Africa, and Europe, including the American Cemetery at Normandy.
Jon is survived by his wife of 59 years, Shirley; a daughter, Courtney Harned (Nathan); a son, Christopher Poulson (Haley); five grandchildren – Charlie and Ella Poulson, Emory Harned, and Sarah Belk and Chase Poulson; and a very special chocolate lab, “Miss Puppy.” An equally-loved chocolate lab, Maddie, died in 2012. “Big Jon” was extremely proud of his grandchildren and delighted in their achievements, both in the classroom and on the sports field.
Jon’s longtime good friend Samuel H. Cooper Jr. is in charge of arrangements. A celebration of life will be held at the Island House Restaurant on Friday, Nov. 24, from 1 to 3 p.m. There will be a short service followed by time for fellowship. Please come prepared to share your favorite story.
Memorial donations, if desired, should be made to the SPCA – Eastern Shore, Inc., Jon’s favorite charity. Condolences can be sent to 16275 Red Bank Lane, Melfa, VA 23410.
Jon believed and said often that the quality of one’s life was what was important – not the length thereof.