As the Hon. Russell Bean stepped up to the podium in the Hamilton County Commission Room to deliver the memorial of James Gordon Petty to a panel of judges, he paused and looked over the dozens of people seated behind him.
While gazing at the friends, colleagues and loved ones of the Chattanooga Bar Association members who died in 2017, he said, “When I started practicing law, I didn’t know any of the lawyers who had passed away. But today, I know all of them.”
After spotting the Hon. William “Chink” Brown among the seated, he asked his friend, “Isn’t that right, Chink?”
“I’m just glad I’m not one of them,” Brown said, stirring laughter in the room.
But 11 names were on the list – and Friday, March 2, 2018, was their day to be remembered and entered into the archives of the CBA.
The CBA has held an annual memorial service for over 120 years, and like each of those ceremonies, the presenters remembered those who were being honored in various ways.
Nora McCarthy, chairwoman of the CBA’s memorial committee, spoke first, offering a memorial of Gayle Lattimore, who died on Jan. 25, 2017. Lattimore’s family prepared the brief presentation, which remembered her less as an attorney and more as a “loving wife, mother and grandmother.”
Bean, who prepared the memorial for the Hon. Douglas Meyer, offered many details from the late judge’s life, with the highlight of his presentation focused on the cases over which Meyer presided that gained national prominence.
“One of those cases showed that Judge Meyer was truly a renaissance judge,” Bean began. “In that case, two defendant brothers had started a forest fire. Judge Meyer gave them active time, and in doing so, alluded to the dangers to human life and property that forest fires posed.
“He made these statements many years before the horrific Gatlinburg fires that destroyed lives and property.”
Because of this, the National Forest Service named Meyer its caped crusader and released a national poster signifying his accomplishments.
Meyer, who died Feb. 12, 2017, also was cast in the national spotlight when he dismissed the charges against Ed Johnson, a black man lynched in Chattanooga in 1906 for allegedly raping a white girl. “That ruling was heard throughout the United States,” Bean pointed out.
While presenting the memorial for Geoffrey Gardiner Young, who died Feb. 19, 2017, John Henry focused on the late attorney’s professional and civic accomplishments. Henry’s presentation included a lengthy reading of the many organizations to which Young donated his time and expertise.
“His life as a counselor was noteworthy not only for his dedication and commitment to his clients but also for his commitment and service to his community,” Henry explained. “The list of his civic accomplishments is extensive and illustrative of his public spirit and kind and generous nature.”
Joe McBrien’s nature was also well known, said Ronnie Berke, who delivered a memorial prepared by Shawn McBrien. “His mother was born in a small town in Tennessee and his father was from an even smaller town in Ireland,” Berke said. “Just looking at his DNA, you knew he was going to have an interesting life.”
McBrien’s Irish roots showed in the way he fought for his clients,” Berke continued. “And when I say he fought for his clients, I literally mean he fought for his clients,”
After the laughter subsided, Berke balanced his remarks, saying that even though McBrien, a personal injury attorney, would get into heated arguments with the defense bar, he was friends with many of its lawyers and would often have dinner or drinks with them after a “knock-down, drag-out fight.”
Above all, McBrien, who died March 8, 2017, will be remembered for his constant smile, Berke said.
John Bartlett “Bart” Quinn will be remembered for “passing away too soon” after a long and tenacious battle for his health, presenter Justin Furrow said. Furrow lauded Quinn’s skills as a labor and employment attorney, his spontaneous nature and his love for his family, but also focused on the lessons he learned from his mentor before his death on April 5, 2017 at the age of 55.
“The legal lessons Bart taught me pale in comparison to the life lessons he shared,” Furrow, who worked with Quinn at Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, noted. “He liked being a lawyer but was not consumed by it. He instead placed a higher value on his more important purposes in life – being a devoted husband, loving father, doting grandfather, proud brother and fun-loving friend.
“Bart demonstrated that these relationships matter most in life, not whether you’ve returned the last phone call or responded to your email.”
Presenter Marcia McMurray took advantage of the captive audience in the County Commission Room to offer an extensive biography of her father, Robert McMurray, who died on May 30, 2017.
As Marcia laid out the many details of her father’s 87 years, which included a nomadic childhood, a successful legal career, an active family life with his wife and four daughters and countless contributions to the legal profession and the churches he attended, she included the values he passed on to her.
“My father often told me that his father taught him about the importance of thinking of the other man,” she recounted. “This attitude prevailed in his professional life. Since his retirement and then after his death, numerous clients have told me how much my father meant to them, not only for his legal counsel but also because of his genuine interest in them, their families and their businesses.”
Marcia said her father never boasted about his success, although one day, after Alzheimer’s had taken away most of his memory and his inhibitions, someone asked him what kind of a lawyer he’d been. “A damn good one,” was his reply.
“That he was,” Marcia added.
Judge Bean, who sat with the panel of judges that presided over the ceremony, then returned to the podium to deliver the memorial for Petty, who died Sept. 23, 2017. J. Gregory Petty, the late attorney’s son, had prepared the resolution.
Gregory wrote that he “counts himself lucky beyond measure” to have Petty as a father and shared some of the lessons his dad not only taught him but also lived out every day.
“My father taught me the importance of family. He took me everywhere, including his office and the courthouse, and would always treat me to me lunch, or an ice cream cone, if it was the end of the day. He had a full work load but he made it clear he was a father first.
“He was also a well-rounded person, which he considered to be one of the greatest accomplishments a person can obtain, my father could talk about the law for hours, but he could also fix your taillight, explain the shotgun offense in football, hang a light fixture and cook one of the best pots of chili you’d ever tasted.”
Robert Batson, Jr., who prepared and presented the memorial for Charles Hon, III, offered the usual biographical details of his subject. For example, Hon spent his career working as a title insurance attorney at his family’s business – Title Guaranty and Trust Company of Chattanooga.
Hon also became active in the title insurance industry and its associations, helped to rewrite the title insurance law for Tennessee and supported many area charities.
But when Hon died Sept. 28, 2017, he left behind his greatest assets, Batson said: his wife of 50 years, Emily Ann Eliot Hon, and their two children, Charles O. Hon IV and Emily Nelle Hon.
The family of the Hon. Don Moore, prepared by his family and presented by Rheubin Taylor, offered only a few details on the life of the judge, who died Nov. 28, 2017.
In the end, he was known for his “love of travel, flying small planes, golf, building PCs and attending UT football games.”
The Leitner Firm remembered Charles “Buz” Dooley, who died Dec. 2, 2017, as “the ultimate volunteer,” Thomas Williams presented the memorial for his longtime partner, which outlined the many professional and civic organizations to which Dooley had donated his time and knowledge.
Ardena Garth prepared and presented the memorial for Karla Gothard, whom she described as “a proud native of Chattanooga, a proud criminal defense attorney and a proud woman” who fought and won many battles.
“Although Karla was diagnosed with debilitating rheumatoid arthritis during her first year of practice, she fought the disease valiantly through the rest of her life.
A poster in her office said ‘Ginger Rogers took every step Fred Astaire did, she just did it backwards and in high heels,’” Garth recalled.
Gothard worked in health care in Murfreesboro for several years before going to law school, which in 1978 was still a novel idea for a woman. But she excelled at Cumberland School of Law and graduated in the top of her class.
“She was especially proud of being the first female attorney sworn in in Walker County, Georgia, and that her Georgia license gave ‘him’ the right to practice law in the state,” Garth added.
Gothard wanted to try cases and to make a difference –and she did, Garth said.
Her victories included a successful age discrimination case against a multistate company in federal court; a successful class action suit against a local man who, under the guise of running a mission for homeless women, was taking their government checks and sexually abusing them; and an array of cases involving pro bono services for men referred by Chattanooga Cares.
“But Karla’s first love was the representation of indigent defendants in criminal court,” Garth said.
The disease Gothard had fought for many years finally compromised her ability to breathe, and she took an early retirement in 2014. She died on Dec. 20, 2017.
In a benediction closing the ceremony, the Rev. Dr. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., of First Centenary United Methodist Church, said, “We have been privileged today to celebrate the lives of these wonderful people, who made invaluable contributions to the well-being of this community. May ... the good in these precious people continue to speak to the good in each of us.”