On Tuesday, August 23, 2022, George Morton passed away just a few days shy of his 95th birthday. While he is recognizable to most of us as one of the senior founders of our firm, he was larger than life in so many ways to so many others. He was indeed a gentleman, a scholar, and the epitome of a professional lawyer. Some of us are truly privileged to call him a mentor.
George was licensed to practice law in 1949. In 1960, he joined his brother, Clure Morton, and formed the law firm Morton & Morton. A few years later, in 1964, Charles (Charlie Lewis) joined the firm and the firm name changed to Morton, Morton & Lewis. Sustained growth and success begot more name changes over the next several decades and the opening of a Nashville office in 1983. A final name change to Lewis Thomason occurred about a decade ago as the result of a merger with the Memphis firm of Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell, which had also evolved from three very similar founding partners, John Thomason, Frank Crawford, and Roy Hendrix. The merger united two major players in three major metropolitan cites in Tennessee with separate but similar historical paths and professional excellence.
In addition to his superior legal skills, George possessed legal recall that was second to none. He would not only quote directly from case law during conversations, he would most likely be able to also provide the name of the court, the name of the judge, and the date of the decision. George had a brilliant legal mind to go along with his recall. He thought “outside the box” long before it became a catch phrase. George was universally respected by clients, opposing lawyers, and by the Court. Likewise, he treated everyone he knew with the utmost respect. He strongly encouraged all lawyers to refer to each other and their staff with the prefix “Mr.” or “Mrs.” To George, this was simply an outward way to show respect to each other. George spent his final years of practicing law in a partnership with his son, Myers Morton.
George also made his mark in public service and politics. He served as City Law Director for the City of Knoxville at one time and, at the time he passed, he was the oldest living former City Law Director. George managed the East Tennessee campaign efforts of Howard Baker during a successful senatorial bid in the late 1960’s. Later, based in part on George’s recommendation, his brother Clure was appointed Federal Judge for the Middle District of Tennessee in 1968. Judge Morton shared George’s legal mind and was credited with having an eidetic memory that would paralyze lawyers arguing in his court when he would quote, verbatim, from that lawyer’s brief without anything on his desk but a blank legal pad. Judge Clure Morton played a large role in the desegregation of school systems in Middle Tennessee and ultimately had the federal courthouse in Cookeville named after him.
All of us will remember George as a tall, robust man always dressed in a three-piece suit with a large H. Upman cigar hanging from his mouth. He would sometimes place his “previously” lit cigar in his suit jacket front pocket for later use. Some of us may or may not have seen smoke rising out of that pocket on more than one occasion. If you are so inclined, have a cigar in honor of George this weekend.
May we all strive to be for the next generation the same excellent examples, lawyers, and citizens that our founders across Tennessee were for us.