Bachelor of Arts Missouri, 1934. Bachelor of Laws, University Missouri, 1936.
He was in private practice in Kansas City, Missouri from 1936 to 1962. On March 5, 1962, Oliver was nominated by President John F. Kennedy for a seat on the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri vacated by R. Jasper Smith. Oliver was confirmed by the United States Senate on April 2, 1962, and received his commission the following day.
He served as chief judge from 1977 to 1980, assuming senior status on November 3, 1980 and serving in that capacity until his death, in Kansas City.
Member Kansas City Bar Association, Missouri State Bar (governor 1945-1946), Lawyers Association Kansas City (board directors 1942), American Judicature Society, Missouri History Society, Society of Friends.
Married Gertrude Field, January 24, 1940. Children: John Watkins II, Gertrude, Jane, David.