Bill Greenhill Remarks, Hon. Joe R. Greenhill, Sr. Memorial Service

February 15, 2011

          We are here to celebrate the life and career of Joe Greenhill. Mom said it best. This is a victory for him. A new beginning. As an Easter hymn puts it:


          “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!  The strife is o’er, the battle is done. The Victory of life is won. The song of triumph has begun, Alleluia!”


          On behalf of the Greenhill family, I want to welcome all of you and express our appreciation for your being here with us. Your presence means a great deal to us, especially to Mom. Dad, ever the humble man, once suggested to Mom that, since he outlived most of his contemporaries, no one would attend his memorial service. Your being here proves him wrong. His life and career touched so many more people than his contemporaries, and your presence confirms that.


          Dad, in his notes he left for us in regard to this service, emphasized brevity at least six or seven times. As the attorneys here know, Dad put a new meaning to the word “brief” in his extolling appellate lawyers to make oral arguments and legal briefs, brief, simple and to the point. How do I, on behalf of Mom and the rest of the family, say something brief about Dad.


          This space has many memories for the Greenhill’s, baptisms, confirmations, Easter morning services and midnight Charismas services, Epiphany pageants, and Rev. Charles Sumners preaching about “the reality of Jesus Christ” from this pulpit with the family sitting where it is now, first pew center. It is good to see the family where it belongs.


          I served as an acolyte in this Parish. I thought being a Crucifer was a “big deal.”  I got to dress up in an Alb, wear white gloves, and carry the processional cross during the processional and recessional hymns. When I assumed the grim position as Crucifer when coming out into the nave to gather the collection the plates, Dad would always break my solemnity by making funny faces or hand motions to make me smile. He entertained Joe Jr and me during the sermons by making us boats and hats with the service bulletin. That was Dad. No pretence allowed.


          One of the services, in my mind, helps bring together the essence of what Dad was all about. On October 1, 1957, the day Dad was sworn in as the then youngest Associate Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, Dad gathered a group of people, not unlike this one, family, friends, legal colleagues, judges and other state officials, to celebrate a another new beginning for Dad as a judge, at a Corporate Communion in this Church. My brother, Joe, and I were acolytes in that service. Bishop John Hines, the then Bishop of Texas, celebrated the Communion service. He gave Dad this Book of Common Prayer. In it Bishop Hines wrote:


          [Read Bishop Hines’ remarks in the Book of Common Prayer]


          The lesson in that service was the first lesson in this service, a reading in the from the Prophet Micah. Dad never explicitly told me his Rule of Life. But I believe that rule can be summed up in the 8th verse of the reading form Micah:


He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”


          These were guiding principles for Dad.


          I believe he came to a realization of these principals while serving as Executive Officer on a minesweeper during World War II. Mom has told us that the only books he had on the ship were the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. He read and studied the Bible and conducted the services for the sailors on the ship from the BCP. He came to realize, as he told me, that there is no up or down, God is around us in all times and at all places. He is in control. What really matters in life is striving for the principals like those written by Micah.


Dad was a kind, gentle man both personally and professionally. 


His main passion in life was his family, and in particular Mom. Mom was the love of his life and best friend for over 70 years. On Mom’s desk at home is a larger than life Valentine poster. It reads: “So you won’t forget, I love you, Valentine.”  She was his rock at all times and in all places. When Governor Daniel called him in 1957 to ask him if he would accept an appointment to the Texas Supreme Court, the first thing Dad did was to ask Mom if this were OK. Even though Dad was building a successful practice with Graves, Dougherty, and Greenhill and both of them knew the appointment would mean financial sacrifices, Mom asked Dad if this is something he really wanted to do. He answered, “There is nothing better than this.” Dad had never any ambition but to be a justice on the Supreme Court of Texas. The rest is history. However, later on, when he was given the opportunity to serve the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Dad asked Mom the same question, this time the answer was “no.” This meant Dad being away from home to much. Dad agreed. Mom’s and Dad’s love and devotion to each other was a bond made in heaven. As the scripture tells us, they were one.


Dad was a loving and devoted father and grandfather as well. He never told any of us what to do. He led us all by his quiet, unassuming example and trusted our judgment. There was never any question that he had unconditional love and loyalty for all of us. The only way to get in trouble with Dad, other than to cross the dignity of the Court, was to cross Mom or his kids or grand kids. There are many stories about this, but it is best I not tell them.


My second son, Frank, told me last night that Dad was his first fishing buddy. Indeed, Dad and Mom took each of my sons, Duke, Frank, and Joe V, on a special trip;  Duke to DC, and Joe to San Antonio (including a visit to see  the mermaids below the glass bottom boats in San Marcus). Frank, our outdoorsman, wanted to go fishing, something Dad did not particularly like to do. Dad took him to a lake owned by Tom Philips, a close friend of Dad’s and partner at Baker Botts. Dad fell out of the boat trying to untie a line in a tree. This is a treasure of a memory for Frank, and we all have such memories.


Dad had real passion for the law and the justice it brings. To this end, the he strongly believed that the opinions he wrote should not only contain sound and succinct reasoning but also holdings that were unequivocal. Many of you have read some of his opinions. I think you will agree that each one of them is succinct, well-reasoned, and the holding is unequivocal. You may not have agreed with his opinions, but you understood them. Dad hand wrote each opinion. A favorite place for him to draft was on the breakfast table in our den, chewing on his Honduran cigar. Dad often gave drafts of his opinions to me to read when I was in high school. His audience was not an intellectual crowd, but practitioners who would have to deal with his opinions.


Another of Dad's passions was professionalism in the legal community. He made speeches about where our profession is going in regard to billable hours, the greed it can encourage, and the danger of legislative intervention. But the passion for professionalism goes further than that and, I believe, is symbolized by his relationship with Justice Thurgood Marshall. As most of you know, Dad tried and went to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case Sweatt v. Painter. Thurgood Marshall was his opposing counsel, representing the NAACP. Dad defended the State of Texas in a case in which he did personally agree with the position he had to take. But he did his job, and he did it well. We lawyers have all been in this position. He and we do our duty to the client. He and Justice Marshall became lifelong friends and they treated each other with upmost dignity and respect.


Joe Greenhill epitomized what it means to be a professional.


There has never been anything stuffy about Dad. He was Associate Justice and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas. But he answered his own telephone at the Court and never put on any pretenses. Anxious law school graduates would call the Chief Justice Office to find out Bar Exam grades. To their surprise, Dad would sometimes be the voice on the phone, and he would find out the grade.


A former law clerk, Steve Hayes, an appellate lawyer in Fort Worth, revealed this story to me this week:  Steve remembered, when his Briefing Attorney class came up with a list of sarcastic “writ refused” designations (e.g., “Writ Ref’d., T.T.” [Writ Refused, Too Tired]). Steve saw him reading the list in the hall outside his office with a slight smile on his face. Steve told him he hoped it didn’t offend, as the Clerks had done it in good humor. Dad looked up, motioned Steve into his library study, sat down at his desk, opened the drawer and pulled out a writ stamp that read “Writ Ref’d., [*][1].”   Still smiling, he said the Court had that one custom made for a lawyer who took particularly vitriolic aim at the Court in a petition.


Larry York’s remarks give you the full flavor about Dad’s ability to be quite serious about his position but not to take himself too seriously.


“He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?" 


This is what Joe Greenhill stood for. This is his lasting legacy.


          I want to close with a part of the “Great Thanksgiving” or Eucharistic Prayer found in our 1928 Book of Common Prayer, for this is indeed an occasion of a great thanksgiving and celebration for the life and career of Joe Greenhill.


Let us pray:


“Heavenly Father, we bless thy holy name for thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service and to grant us grace to as to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of the heavenly kingdom. Grant this, O Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.”

[1]  “F.Y.”