I grew up in Ripley, Tennessee, a farming community of three thousand people, the county seat of Lauderdale County, located fifty miles north of Memphis.
My mother and dad had been married seventeen years when I was born. They had grown up poor and sacrificed for me to have the things they never were able to enjoy in their youth. I had a happy childhood playing sports with my friends and doing the things boys do in small towns.
My father began the practice of law in 1918 when he came home from the Army at the end of World War I. He was the mayor of Ripley when I was born in 1935. He served in the Tennessee state legislature, was the president of the Bank of Ripley and co-publisher of the weekly newspaper, The Lauderdale County Enterprise.
A lot of the people in my family were lawyers. My dad met my mother in a cousin's law office in Ripley. My grandfather on my mother's side, Blair Pierson, was a judge of the Chancery Court in Memphis in the 1800's.
My third cousin, Colin McKinney, from Ripley, was on the Tennessee Supreme Court. He dissented for the court in the Scopes case, the Dayton monkey trial case. Judge McKinney took me to court with him in Nashville when I was a little boy. The Tennessee Supreme Court building was my first exposure to an elevator. It was self operated and he would hold me up to push the buttons.
ARMY, LAW SCHOOL AND PRACTICING LAW WITH MY DAD
I served in the Army two years and then graduated law school in May, 1963. I took the bar exam a month later in July, while recovering from kidney stone surgery. Dad said, "I know you've been sick but you've already paid to take it."
I had nothing to lose. I gave it a try, not really expecting to pass. The results were announced in early September. The successful applicants were printed in the Sunday Memphis Commercial Appeal. I called the paper at seven o'clock on Saturday night. I gave one of the editors on duty my name and asked if he would look at the list. He came back on the line a few moments later and asked, "Is that 'Bartlett Chesterfield Durham?'" I had passed!
I let out a shout. My dad was all smiles. We went to the First Methodist Church in Ripley. The church was dark but the doors were unlocked. We kneeled at the altar and said a prayer. When we left the church I saw tears in my dad's eyes. I can only appreciate how he felt many years later now that I am a father too. I had the same feelings of happiness and pride many years later when my son Blair was sworn in as a lawyer.
My father died of a sudden heart attack the next year but I got to practice with him in Ripley while he was alive. My mother had passed away six years earlier. Judge C.S. Carney in Ripley, one of my father's friends, called Senator Albert Gore, Sr., and got me an appointment with the Federal District Attorney's office in Memphis. It was the opportunity of a lifetime.
PRIVATE PRACTICE 1976 - TO DATE
My practice evolved like it seems to do for lawyers who work hard, tend to business, and are lucky. A few years later I had my own office. Fast forward to present day and now there are six lawyers and a team of 23 people in the office. Many fine lawyers worked in my office over the years including a current Circuit Court judge in Franklin and a current Criminal Court judge in Nashville.
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