‘The Consummate Southern Lawyer’: Huntsville’s legal community remembers Buck Watson

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Huntsville's legal community lost a giant this week. Buck Watson passed away.

His former law partner of over 20 years, Al Jimmerson, says Watson worked everything -- from high-profile criminal defenses to environmental cases to civil rights suits.

In that time, he learned, "Buck was always larger than life."

Even with such stature, he gladly humbled himself before the law and his clients.

"Buck was a master at talking with his clients," says Jimmerson, "Understanding what the problem was, knowing enough law to be able to apply that law to the situation, and being able to tell the clients how we could go about helping them. And he was also very frank if they had bad news coming."

We can say the same about him. He consistently took the time to break down complex legal concepts to help viewers understand. The night Roy Moore put down a stay on same-sex marriages in spite of a federal court ruling, Watson picked up the phone well north of nine o'clock and walked us through the legal ramifications.

He was happy to take the time.

Jimmerson continues, "Buck was equally at ease with Supreme Court justices, with people that were running for President of the United States and for people that were down and out and just wandered into our office when we were on the north side of the square. He would sit with them, talk to them, and do everything he could to help them out."

For those reasons and more, Jimmerson says, "He will really be missed."

Buck Watson's funeral will be held on Friday at First United Methodist Church in Huntsville, not far from where he practiced law.

While we spoke with Jimmerson, Watson's legacy touched all corners of the region's legal community. Senior Federal Judge Charles Lynwood Smith, Jr. had this to say about him:

"Buck Watson was steadfast in his loyalty to friends. He was a man who always looked you straight in the eye, gave you a hearty pat on the shoulder, and a strong handshake. He loved conversations about Alabama history and politics. And he always had an enjoyable story to tell — regardless of whether it was about his DeKalb County roots, playing college and professional football, coaching high school football, or deciding to go back to school and study law. He was a fine lawyer. When he took a case, he thought about it from every angle. He loved challenging cases, even those that other attorneys would pass because they were controversial. He made positive contributions to the State and this community in so many ways, over so many years, that his death leaves a hole that will be difficult to fill. Most of all, however, I will miss his company, and his laughter, very much."

Watson's obituary reads:

Herman Austin “Buck” Watson, Jr., 82, of Huntsville, Alabama, passed away on January 26, 2016. Buck, the son of Herman Austin Watson, Sr., and Cornelia Welch Watson, passed away surrounded by loving family at his home after an extended struggle with cancer. He is survived by his wife, Janet Mangham Watson, children, Cornelia Welch Watson (a writer married to Carey Roberts), LeeAnna Yarbrough Keith (an author and teacher married to Brian Plane), James Hundley Watson (a teacher married to Jane Watson), Rebekah Keith McKinney (his law partner at Watson McKinney, LLC), Elmer Jacobs Watson (also a lawyer; married to MaryTally Watson), and Jack Watson (a firefighter married to Sheila Watson). He was blessed with many grandchildren: Annabelle, Jack, Jake, Marshall, Sam, Emma, Janet, Daniel, John-John, Griffin, Anne-Louise, Rosalie, Austin, Dylan, and Chloe. Though he had many dear friends, he made a special place in the family for Sam Keith, and he cherished his longtime office collaborators, Marcia Perkins and Theresa Willits.

Buck attended Vanderbilt University between 1951 and 1955, and played SEC football in addition to his studies. As the team’s left tackle, he played both offense and defense, earning the nickname “60-Minute Man.” In fact, for many years, he held the SEC record for the highest average number of minutes per game – 55. He was an eighth-round draft pick for the Philadelphia Eagles, but chose instead to play for the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football League, where he was sidelined with a career-ending knee injury. He maintained a lifelong interest in sports, serving on the Board of Directors of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, and acting as the biggest fan and unofficial coach to his children and grandchildren. He was inducted into both the Madison County Sports Hall of Fame and the DeKalb County Sports Hall of Fame.

After graduation from Vanderbilt, Buck became a history teacher and a coach at Lafayette High School in Chambers County, Alabama, coaching the Lafayette High School football team to its first victory season in many years.

In 1961, Buck graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law, where he was a Member of the Law Review and a member of the Bench and Bar Legal Honor Society. After graduation, Buck returned to Lafayette, where he opened his first law practice, and also served as the County Solicitor. Relocating to Huntsville, Buck represented clients in both state and federal courts throughout the country in both civil and criminal cases, and developed a national reputation as tireless advocate for justice and the oppressed. Buck obtained justice for a multitude of people who were injured through toxic exposures, discriminatory pricing, fraudulent trade practices, or the negligence of others.

Buck was a Fellow of both the International Academy of Trial Lawyers and the Alabama Law Foundation, a member of the Alabama Association for Justice and the American Association for Justice, and past-President of the Huntsville-Madison County Bar Association. He served on a multitude of Boards, including his tenure as the Chairman of the Board of the St. Andrews School in Sewanee, Tennessee, and his service on the Access to Justice Commission, the Alabama chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Alabama Civil Justice Foundation. He also served as a Sunday school teacher, lay leader and Chairman of the Administrative Board of Epworth United Methodist Church.

Buck excelled at recognizing the importance and inborn strength in every individual, and in encouraging his family, co-workers and friends to do their best. “Whatever we do is a small piece of society,” he once wrote. “It either strengthens it or weakens it – it never leaves it unaffected.” In keeping with this idea, he prized his children’s accomplishments as teachers, writers, lawyers, and public servants and made his own indelible mark for the better on the lives of others.

Visitation will be Thursday, January 28 from 5:00 – 7:00 at Laughlin Service Funeral Home, the funeral will be Friday, January 29 at 3:00 p.m. at First United Methodist Church in Huntsville, and interment will be Saturday, January 30 at 2:00 p.m. at Glenwood Cemetery, Ft. Payne, Alabama.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Hospice Family Care Inpatient Facility, care of Huntsville Hospital Foundation, 101 Sivley Road, Huntsville, Alabama 35801, or the Equal Justice Initiative, 122 Commerce Street, Montgomery, Alabama 36104.

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