Joe Beck Hairston, R.I.P.

When a young politician named Lyndon Baines Johnson first ran for Congress he kissed a baby in Rice’s Crossing, Williamson County, Texas.  When something like that happens, you know that baby is going to be a Yellow Dog Democrat for the rest of his life.  That particular baby became the rock upon which our law firm was built.  Today would have been Joe’s 83rd birthday.  He left us one month ago.  I want to let you know a few things about this great man to whom I am deeply indebted. 

Joe Beck, as he was known, was an outstanding student and a proud Fightin’ Duck at Taylor High School.  He graduated high school in 1956 and enrolled at Harvard.  Let that thought sink in for a moment. Taylor High School.  Harvard.  Not many have made that journey.  Here are the academic  credentials of this lifelong learner:  B.A. from Harvard, 1960; M.A. in English from UT Austin in 1966; Ph.D. in American Studies at University of Minnesota in 1971; J.D. from UT Austin in 1975; Master’s in Southern Studies from Ole Miss in 1995.  In between Harvard and that first UT degree Joe served in the U.S. Navy for four years.

After law school Joe went to work at the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) when it was a very small organization. There was no TASB Risk Management, and the policy service was just getting off the ground. In fact, Joe is the principal author of the original version of the policy service.  If he did nothing else in the world of Texas school law, that alone would be a significant legacy. 

The law firm now known as Walsh Gallegos Treviño Russo & Kyle actually began on September 1, 1983 as Doyal, Hairston and Walsh.  Three lawyers, one secretary.  Tom Doyal and I did not know each other well.  Joe was the connection that bound us together.  We firmed up the agreement to form the law firm in a meeting at Joe’s farm house in Rice’s Crossing.  Tom’s only condition for starting a new law firm was that Joe be the managing shareholder. 

Joe established our law firm on a solid foundation based on his personal values.  We served public education by serving the people who made the public schools work.  We took good care of our employees.  We were financially conservative and sound.  We practiced law ethically.  We nurtured relationships with all of the other organizations that promoted public education. 

Of particular relevance to me and to this blog you are reading was Joe’s relationship with Dr. Frank Kemerer of the University of North Texas.  When Frank began writing the second edition of The Educator’s Guide to Texas School Law he decided that he needed a practicing school lawyer to co-author with him. Frank could have recruited any lawyer in the state for this. He chose the best: Joe.   Frank was also launching a little newsletter he called the Texas School Administrators’ Legal Digest.   He recruited Joe to help with this.  When Frank offered to give Joe an ownership interest in TSALD Joe, being Joe, felt obligated to share this opportunity with his law partner.  He only had one at the time—me.  So Joe persuaded a skeptical Frank Kemerer to allow me to try out a humorous Q and A column in the newsletter.  So without Joe, there would be no Law Dawg.    There would be no Daily Dawg today.

Casual acquaintances of Joe saw the intelligence and wit.  Those who knew him better saw that, and much more.  Joe lived his life based on solid values of honesty, decency, fairness, integrity.  He had a visceral contempt for the conman or liar.  He had the courage to engage in epic legal battles with experienced litigators when necessary.  Joe was not trained as a litigator, and had little experience with courtroom trials, but he bested his opponents time after time.

I think it was the early 90s when Joe first left the firm.  He said he was through with law practice for good.  His intent was to fly to a remote island in the South Pacific, arriving in the middle of the night with no place to stay and no plans.  He said he wanted to “live on the edge.”  At least that’s what he told me. Sometimes with Joe it was hard to tell where the truth ended and the story began.  About five years later he came back. We welcomed Joe back.

The best professional decision I ever made was to ask Joe if he would consider starting a new law firm with me.  I got a professional home, a mentor, a role model, and a lifelong friend.   When Joe came into my office I could count on laughing out loud before he left.  I was honored to be invited to Joe’s 75th birthday at the Jules Verne Restaurant in the Eiffel Tower.  I think he invited me to that event in an effort to encourage me to do more international travel.  It was my first and only trip to Paris.  Travel was Joe’s passion.  He visited over 100 countries on six continents.

We are all indebted to this great man, me in particular.  I’m very proud to have been Joe’s friend and law partner.


Tomorrow:  Texas district successful at 5th Circuit