Texas Supreme Court Justice Joe Greenhill Funeral Rich With Tales

February 18, 2011

The Who’s Who of the old Austin legal and political community jammed downtown St. David’s church Tuesday afternoon to say goodbye to revered retired Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court Joe Greenhill.  And along with the reverent moments to celebrate the life of a genuine comunity icon, attendees got a generous diet of humor from longtime friend Larry York and sons Joe, Jr. nd Bill Greenhill.

York told the story of the day newly elected Lt. Governor Bill Hobby was sworn into office at the State Capitol. When Justice Greenhill called upon Hobby to raise his right hand to take the oath, Hobby–a lefthander, intinctively raised his left hand. So Greenhill, never missing a beat, raised his own left hand and continued to administer the oath.  And the Chief Justice said no one ever questioned whether Hobby was legally Lt. Governor.

Another tale from York that regaled the audience was about the time Greenhill took his rather run-down 12-year-old green Dodge into an auto repair shop to fix some problem. When told the part needed was no longer available, Greenhill instructed  the repair man to “just rig up somthing” he thought would work.  Then, eyeing the SO-13 state license plate, the repair man asked him if  he was in government. Greenhill confessed he was a Justice, to which the man looked over the green Dodge once more and replied “well, you must be a really honest judge”.

On  more serious notes, friends heard how Greenhill always answered his own phone and showed his handwritten opinions to 60-year-long wife Martha to be sure they were easily understood by the layman. They also heard how that in a time before desegregation, he made sure that  visiting lawyer Thurgood Marshall had a place to stay while in Austin to argue the landmark Herman Sweatt-University of Texas case, even though as then- assistant Attorney General for  Texas, he was bound to oppose him in court.  The passing of Chief Justice Greenhill takes away one more giant of Texas history.

–Julian Read

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