Jack Pope honored for lifetime achievements

Judges Jack Pope and Steve Smith

Judge Jack Pope is the inaugural recipient of the Judicial Lifetime Achievement Award from the Judicial Section of the State Bar of Texas. The 1934 graduate of Abilene Christian University was presented the honor Sept. 22 in Corpus Christi at the annual meeting of the Judicial Section.

According to the award criteria, it will be presented annually to “a current or former Texas judge who is recognized by his or her peers as having a reputation for and commitment to judicial excellence, has achieved a significant length of service as a judge in Texas and has demonstrated a long term, consistent and significant contribution to the betterment of the judiciary, access to justice and the system of justice in Texas.”

Judge Steve Smith (’74) of the 361st District Court in Bryan, Texas, made the presentation. He and Pope (1961-62) are the only ACU alumni to have served as chair of the Judicial Section. Smith began his term as chair in September 2010.

Smith shared with us the text of his presentation to Pope:

“For those of you who have questioned how I got out of law school, or why I was permitted to take the bar exam, you might want to talk to our honoree today – he told the bar examiners it was okay for me to take the exam.

Andrew Jackson Pope  Jr. was born in Abilene, Texas, on April 18, 1913. That might have been the last time he was ever referred to by any name other than simply ‘Jack.’ After graduating from Abilene Christian University in 1934 (where he served as Students’ Association president) he attended law school at The University of Texas at Austin, graduating in 1937 after having been student editor of the Texas Law Review.

He moved to Corpus Christi to practice law with his uncle, Walter Pope, a former state representative. In the summer of 1938, he made one of the best decisions of his life in marrying Allene Nichols, an elementary teacher whom he had met while at UT. They had two sons, Andrew Jackson Pope III and Walter Allen Pope. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he resumed practicing law in Corpus, but was soon appointed at the age of 33 to serve as judge of the 94th District Court. At the urging of many, he sought a seat on the 4th Court of Civil Appeals in San Antonio in 1950, was elected, and served there until 1964, when he was elected to the Supreme Court. In October of 1982, he was appointed Chief Justice and served there until his retirement in 1985.

But Chief Justice Pope’s retirement was anything but that. In 1986, through his and Allene’s generous donation to his alma mater, the Jack Pope Fellows Program was established in the political science department at ACU. This interdisciplinary program is designed to encourage students to devote themselves to public service. I’m proud to have a daughter who was a Jack Pope Fellow and is now a first-year student at the University of Virginia Law School.

In 1989, along with fellow former Supreme Court Chief Justices Joe Greenhill and Robert Calvert, Judge Pope established the Texas Center for Ethics and Professionalism. The Center exists to promote the highest values of professionalism and integrity, and awards the Chief Justice Jack Pope Professionalism Award each year.

Not resting a moment, in 1990 Judge Pope was one of the incorporators of the Supreme Court Historical Society. The Society was created to insure the collection and preservation of the history of our state judicial system. Judge Pope presently serves as chair of the society.

You can see why Judge Pope is the eminently deserving recipient of the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award. But perhaps his greatest qualification is not one of positions held, or accolades received or honors presented. It’s even more important than that.

Quite simply, Jack Pope is one of the finest and most decent men it has been my privilege to know. His life has been marked with integrity in everything he has done. His loving care for Allene in her later years of illness is a model to any spouse. He’s always been a very unassuming individual, more than willing to deflect attention away from himself, even to the point of self-deprecation. He often has said that he ‘never displeased anyone as a judge,’ though he’d go on to say that ‘when public expectations are slight, the disappointments are few.’

During the past year, many have celebrated the 50th anniversary of Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ and have repeatedly mentioned that every attorney should strive to have the qualities of Atticus Finch. In my book, every judge should aspire to be the kind of judge that Jack Pope was, and still is – a man of scholarship, integrity and compassion. I still remember what I believe is the most important thing I ever heard Judge Pope say. At the dinner that established the Pope Fellows program, Judge Pope was asked to what he credited his 35 years of continuous service as a judge for our state. His answer was direct and succinct: ‘I was never afraid to lose an election.’

Summing up his career, Judge Pope once remarked that has was ‘too young to be a judge in the beginning; too old to comply with the retirement law at the end. Just about the time I was getting the hang of being a judge, I had to retire.’

When I grow up I want to be a judge, and more importantly, a person like Jack Pope.”

Pope is a former ACU trustee who was named the university’s Outstanding Alumnus of the Year for 1964. Smith is a current ACU trustee.


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