Warrenton accountant Owen Robertson loves helping the community with their tax returns, and he considers his clients as friends. His strong bond with his customers is one reason he kept his business, Owen Robertson & Associates, going for 60 years before retiring on June 1.
By his side for many of those years has been his wife and fellow accountant, Alice Marie Robertson. Both are Warren County natives. He graduated from John Graham High School, while she graduated from Norlina High School.
By pursuing a career in accounting, Robertson followed in the footsteps of his father, L.O. Robertson, Sr.
“Daddy kept books for a lot of people in Warrenton,” he said. “He started on the dining room table.”
Owen Robertson assisted his father with a few tax returns while he was a student at Louisburg College. In the mid-1950s, Owen and Alice Marie married, and Owen became business partners with his father, who was bookkeeper at the former Pittard Motor Service on Warrenton’s Main Street, where Pete Smith Tire & Quick Lube is now.
By 1957, Owen was juggling work preparing tax returns and helping at the local tobacco market. Alice Marie later joined the accounting business as a secretary.
In the late 1950s/early 1960s, Owen and his father opened an office at the location of the former Farmers Warehouse, where Warrenton Rural Volunteer Fire Department stands today. Alice Marie completed coursework allowing her to serve as an accountant.
Owen took over the business in 1966 after the death of his father and purchased his longtime office on Warrenton’s Ridgeway Street.
For 47 years, Owen worked in both the tax business and the tobacco business in warehouse positions. Alice Marie worked beside her husband in both capacities, serving as tobacco warehouse sales supervisor and handling the books. However, eventually, Warren County tobacco warehouses closed, and the Robertsons devoted their time to accounting.
Owen marveled at how much tax return preparation has changed since he began working with his father. For years, L.O. Robertson, Sr., and Owen after him, calculated tax returns in their heads, figuring them on legal pads before transferring them by hand onto tax forms. It was not unusual for father and son to work until 1 a.m. to complete tax returns.
At the time, trains ran through Norlina on a regular basis. Owen recalled traveling with his father to Norlina on April 15 after the post office closed so that tax returns could be put on the train to go out with the mail.
Typing later replaced completing tax returns by hand. As the accounting business grew, Owen hired more employees during tax season, and later, a full-time employee. At one time, Owen added auctioneering and real estate to his career repertoire.
In the early 1990s, Owen Robertson & Associates moved to a computer system. Owen is grateful for continually upgraded tax preparation software because farm tax returns that were once two or three pages now cover 35-40 pages.
“There’s no way that I would attempt to do a tax return by hand now,” he said.
In recent years, Owen and Alice Marie operated the business by themselves once again. Throughout its history, Owen Robertson & Associates has focused on tax returns for small businesses, farms, some corporations and partnerships with a focus on providing trustworthy, personal service. Owen and Alice Marie have wanted clients to know that they mean much more than just numbers on a spreadsheet.
“Basically, I know what people do and what they need,” Owen said. “We tried our best to give people the best service we can over the years.”
The business built a customer base that included not only Warren County residents, but people from as far away as South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and North Dakota.
“People from this area moved and still wanted us to do their taxes,” Alice Marie said.
In retirement, Owen and Alice Marie want to spend more time with their family, especially visiting grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They also want to travel and take a true vacation.
As they try to imagine a day without preparing tax returns, the Robertsons are grateful for being able to help their community for six decades.
“We’ve been blessed,” Owen said. “It’s been a good run, a good career.”