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Joe Reynolds

JOE REYNOLDS (1921–2009)

Two wars interrupted Houston lawyer Joe Reynolds’ legal career. While in his second year at Baylor Law School, Reynolds heard a speech by a Marine who had fought in the Guadalcanal Campaign. Soon after that, Reynolds and several of his law school friends joined the Marine Corps.         

Reynolds told an interviewer that he saw his first action in World War II on Guam in 1944. In February 1945, he landed with the 3rd Marine Division on Iwo Jima, site of some of the fiercest fighting in the war.

“I saw them raise the flag at Iwo Jima. That was an awesome experience,” Reynolds recalled. During the fighting, he was hit by a mortar shell and suffered serious injuries to his legs, but he returned as a forward artillery observer searching for enemy positions while in a small plane flying over the Iwo Jima battlefield. Because of his combat injuries, Reynolds received the Purple Heart as well as other military medals.

He returned to Baylor Law School, graduated, and was admitted to the State Bar of Texas in 1947. In 1950, Reynolds was unexpectedly invited back into military service and soon found himself in Korea. His involvement in the Korean War began with a letter that instructed him to report for active duty 10 days later. In November 1950, Reynolds, then a captain, was among the 15,000 U.S. Marine and Army forces surrounded and badly outnumbered by Chinese troops as part of the Chosin Reservoir Campaign. The 17-day battle that ensued was waged in bitterly cold weather. With the temperature dropping to almost 40 below zero, Reynolds’ carbine froze as did his feet. As a result of severe frostbite and injuries caused by shrapnel, Reynolds spent almost a year in the hospital. He later wrote a poem about his experience, calling it “God had a plan for me.”

His war service did not deter Reynolds from having a successful legal career; he spent more than 50 years as a lawyer. Soon after being admitted to the Texas bar, as Reynolds recalled, he applied for and was accepted for a briefing attorney position at the Texas Supreme Court, but Joe Greenhill, the first assistant at the Office of the Attorney General, persuaded him to go in a different direction.

“My first day as a lawyer, I worked for the attorney general under the direction of Joe Greenhill,” Reynolds said in an interview.

While at the attorney general’s office, Reynolds represented the State Highway Department, now part of the Texas Department of Transportation, in multiple antitrust cases. Reynolds also worked with Greenhill and others on the Sweatt v. Painter case that resulted in the desegregation of the University of Texas School of Law. The attorney general’s office represented T.S. Painter, the university’s president, and other university officials in their argument that state law prohibited the admission of Heman Sweatt, an African-American applicant, to the law school.

In 1950, Reynolds joined Bracewell, Tunks & Patterson in Houston, later renamed Bracewell, Tunks, Reynolds & Patterson. The firm subsequently became Bracewell & Giuliani.

Reynolds had a brief brush with national politics in 1952 when Dwight Eisenhower was running for president. Texas Governor Allan Shivers, who was forming a organization, Democrats for Eisenhower, called on Reynolds to do a speaking tour for the Republican presidential nominee. “I went all over Texas speaking for Gen. Eisenhower,” Reynolds said in an interview.

In 1966, Reynolds and several other members of the Bracewell firm formed Reynolds, White, Allen & Cook in Houston. He later served as of counsel to Andrews Kurth and ended his career with Schwartz, Junell, Greenberg & Oathout. Over the years, Reynolds served as the personal lawyer for two governors — Dolph Briscoe and Mark White — and also represented numerous school districts throughout the state.

A staunch supporter of jury trials, Reynolds once had a sign over his office door that read: “He who does not try his cases to a jury is a coward.”

Reynolds said in an interview that his most famous jury problem came in a trial in which he was one of the attorneys representing the Amerada Hess Corp. in a lawsuit over a break in a pipeline that was built under the Houston ship channel to connect with the Hess terminal. According to Reynolds, a potential female juror told the judge she hated lawyers and did not believe a word that one of the lawyers had said during voir dire. Reynolds stood up and said he knew the lawyer in question and that the lawyer was honorable. But the woman said she did not believe Reynolds either. “We let her go,” he recalled.

In 1972, Governor Preston Smith appointed Reynolds to the Texas A&M University Board of Regents, a position he held for 16 years. Three Texas governors reappointed Reynolds to the board. In recognition of his service, a building on the Texas A&M College of Medicine campus is named in Reynolds’ honor.

Reynolds, who died in 2009, loved being a lawyer. He once said, “If I had a thousand lives to live, I’d be a lawyer in every one of them in Houston, Texas.”