Recognizing Texas Wesleyan: Former Texas Chief Justice Donates Memorabilia to Law School

October 01, 2008

The last thing Joe Greenhill wants is recognition. That’s what his son, Bill, will tell you, if you ask about the former Texas Supreme Court justice’s many accomplishments and acts of generosity over the course of his career.

However, when someone of Justice Greenhill’s standing – he has been a prominent member of the Texas legal community for decades, perhaps most notably as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas – makes a donation to an institution and lends his name to a function or scholarship, recognition is inevitable. And earlier this year, Texas Wesleyan University School of Law became the fortunate recipient of all three of those acts.

On April 18, the Greenhill family announced a donation to Texas Wesleyan University School of Law consisting of several papers, notes, and memorabilia collected throughout the chief justice’s time in the legal profession. The donation was announced at a reception following the law school alumni association’s annual reunion weekend golf tournament.

“This is something deeply in my dad’s heart,” Bill said. “To support people who share his love of the law.”

Appropriately, this year’s golf tournament was the first to carry its new title as the Chief Justice Joe Greenhill Golf Tournament. The event has become a regular part of the alumni association’s annual meeting and reunion dinner, and will carry the chief justice’s name permanently in future years. Members of the immediate Greenhill family were present for this year’s inaugural event – Joe, his wife, Martha, and their sons, Bill and Joe Jr.

In conjunction with the donation, the law school announced the Chief Justice Joe Greenhill Scholarship. The scholarship will be an annual award given to a Texas Wesleyan law student who plans to work in public service and who displays professional integrity and excels academically. The alumni association started the fund with a check for $10,000, which board members presented to Justice Greenhill at the reception.

Sharing a Love of the Law

The Greenhills have no obvious ties to Texas Wesleyan University School of Law. None has attended the school, nor have they held positions on the faculty or administration. But the family believes strongly in supporting legal education, as is evident by the number of legal scholarships bearing the former chief justice’s name throughout the state of Texas. So it was only natural that Bill, a partner specializing in corporate and securities law at Haynes and Boone in Fort Worth, became involved with Texas Wesleyan, which is situated less than a mile from his downtown office.

“Where this started was during [Richard] Gershon’s time as dean of the law school,” Bill said. “I became a member of his council, and then it continued with Fred Slabach, then with Cynthia Fountaine, and I hope with Dean White.

“The idea, initially, was to start a scholarship in my dad’s name and connect it with friends and associates who were associated with him when he was on the Supreme Court of Texas. The long-term goal [was] to help recognition of the school. I firmly believe that the legal community, and the community at large, should vigorously support our law school.”

While the idea of a scholarship was being discussed, Bill received a call from his father, who asked him to pick up some things from his office. At the age of 91, the chief justice told his son he was getting ready to retire and needed to unload some things from his office.

“I went down to Austin and I saw what was there: pictures, memorabilia, gavels, and legal papers,” Bill said. “Also, there were his notes from Sweatt v. Painter, the first integration case in Texas. It was from the late 1940s and early 1950, Dad was the first assistant attorney general, and his job was to defend the state of Texas in a case in which Heman Sweatt challenged the constitutionality of the segregation of the University of Texas law school based on the theory of ‘separate but equal.’”

Bill immediately recognized that the items, particularly his father’s notes on Sweatt v. Painter, could be of great value to other legal professionals. In his eyes, these were more than just historical documents; they were examples of the professionalism his father exemplified throughout his career.

The case of Sweatt v. Painter dates back to 1946, when Herman Marion Sweatt, an African American man, was denied acceptance to the University of Texas law school. Based on the argument that the law program at Texas Southern University, a school that was originally created exclusively for African Americans, was a suitable alternative, Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP filed suit on the grounds that the education provided at Texas Southern was inadequate to that at the University of Texas.

“Dad’s relationship with Thurgood Marshall is the epitome of professionalism,” Bill said. “They were against each other in a very controversial, very high-profile case. But as lawyers, there was no ‘Rambo.’ There was complete courtesy and respect, and that is the way the law is supposed to operate. Professionalism and respect for each other. Dad had a job to do and the NAACP had their points.

“The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court did not rule on the constitutionality of ‘separate but equal’ but ruled that there was no way that Texas Southern Law School could be equal to the UT law school. Dad and Thurgood Marshall became very close friends. And that’s the point with Sweatt v. Painter. They went to Texas Southern – now the Texas Southern Thurgood Marshall School of Law – and they would go down there occasionally and talk to students about professionalism.”

Anyone who knows Bill knows what comes next in the story. When he was 8 years old, the Greenhill family was visiting Washington, D.C., and they bumped into Thurgood Marshall, who was working as the solicitor general of the United States. Marshall invited the family into the Supreme Court where Brown v. Board of Education was about to be rendered.

“My family was there, we were sitting next to Thurgood Marshall,” Bill said. “It was 1954, and ‘separate but equal’ was declared unconstitutional – and the rest is history. Thurgood Marshall was very excited. He put me – a blond-haired, blue-eyed Anglo boy – on his shoulders and carried me around the courtroom. The point is the professionalism; the respect that these two great men in the legal profession had toward each other.”

Supporting Legal Education

In an act of fortuitous timing, Craig Woodcook ’05 approached Bill about sponsoring the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law alumni association’s 2008 golf tournament at the same time that the Greenhill family was working on the details of the donation. The annual alumni meeting and awards dinner had included a golf tournament in recent years, and positive reception of the event encouraged the board to make it a permanent part of the annual gathering.

In the interest of strengthening the presence of both the tournament and the law school, Woodcook, who currently sits on the alumni association’s board of directors, realized the value in associating the event with an established figure in the legal community.

“Judge Greenhill is just such a monumental and pivotal person in Texas judicial history,” Woodcook said. “I thought that his involvement would really anchor the school within [that] history. The way I imagined the tournament was like the Byron Nelson, which became one of the biggest charities in Dallas. [The tournament] gives more to charity than any PGA tournament. And part of that was because Byron Nelson had such a respect in the golfing community, and in his field and profession he was known as the most ethical, giving, charitable person.

“I think Joe Greenhill has that same reputation. So that’s kind of how I envisioned this tournament coming out. With his name and integrity, it would draw people to the tournament. In turn, we would do something fantastic with the money that we raise.”

With this vision in mind, Woodcook contacted Bill, whom he had met through the corporate council section of the Tarrant County Bar Association a few years earlier.

“Unbeknownst to me, they were working on [Judge Greenhill’s] papers and everything that was getting donated to the school, and I contacted him about sponsoring the golf tournament,” Woodcook said. “[Bill] then filled me in on everything else and said he would love to be involved in the tournament. And he wanted his dad to come up [from Austin] and be more involved with Wesleyan and in the tournament. It just sort of snowballed into naming the tournament after his dad and starting the endowment.”

Bringing It All Together

Bill called the end result a win-win situation. The donation of memorabilia ensures that his father’s achievements and dedication to professionalism will be honored, and the tournament and scholarship provide continued support to legal education and to Texas Wesleyan University School of Law.

“When Craig said we should name the tournament after [my] dad and start the seed money for a scholarship – which was something that was an idea before – I said ‘this is great, this is wonderful. It’s a win-win situation,’” Bill said.

Judge Greenhill’s love of the law and legal education is obviously present in Bill’s attitude. Just as he described his father’s attitude, Bill sees this outreach as a way to promote the profession and lend a helping hand to other people, rather than to showcase himself or his family.

“The goal is to have a meaningful scholarship fund in Dad’s honor to help a student at Texas Wesleyan. The only connections I’ve had [with the law school] have been friendships with Deans Gershon, Slabach, and Fountaine and with some of the professors, and a sincere desire to support the law school. I think that’s important. I have three sons, and they’re all trying to start careers, and I like to support young people in their endeavors to start a career. I think that’s very important.

“I want [Texas Wesleyan] to be a great law school. And we need to support it. There’s no ulterior motive other than it being a good place to put the memorabilia, and it’s an emerging law school. Maybe this will help it go to the next level. I hope it will help give Texas Wesleyan some recognition.”

Article reprinted with permission from Wesleyan Lawyer, author Abby Dozier. 

*Photo: The Greenhill Family attends a reception at Texas Wesleyan.  (From left) Joe Greenhill, Jr., Justice Joe Greenhill, Texas Wesleyan Law School Interim Dean Cynthia Fountaine, Haynes and Boone Partner Bill Greenhill, Martha Greenhill. 












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