Great thing about my job: meeting interesting people

Several years ago, one of our nieces spent part of a day riding around with Life Mate Julie while she tracked down news. After a while she said “You have a great job; you get to get in everyone’s business and you get paid for it.”
Perhaps that’s how some people might see it, but one of the very best things about our business is the interesting people we get to meet. And, if we’re lucky, we get to know them well.
One of the first interesting and delightful people I met when I moved to Jasper was attorney Joe Tonahill.
Tonahill was a personal injury-trial attorney with quite the reputation for winning big sums of money for his clients. Most of his cases were of a personal injury nature.
Of course, I’d heard of him before we met. His time in the headlines had little to do with the majority of his cases. What got him the big headlines was a national trial.
Joining famed San Francisco attorney Melvin Belli, Tonahill was appointed as one of the attorneys to defend Jack Ruby, the man who half of America had witnessed on live TV shoot President John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. Ruby ran right up to the group of policemen and shot Oswald to death.
Ruby was initially found guilty, but they won a new trial for him when an appellate court ruled Ruby should not have been tried in the highly charged atmosphere in Dallas.
Ruby died in jail awaiting a new trial.
Soon after arriving in Jasper in 1991, I instructed a reporter to interview Tonahill. She shrieked and drew back… “You mean Joe Tonahill?!”
“Yes, I mean Joe Tonahill.”
So, off she went and a couple of hours later she came back just bubbling about the interview. I told her to write the story while it was fresh on her mind.
Within a few minutes of her return, I received a phone call from none other than Tonahill.
“I want to thank you for sending that young lady over here to interview me,” he said. “That’s the very first time anyone from The Jasper Newsboy has ever interviewed me for anything.”
I was astounded. And, the reporter cranked out a great feature.
Tonahill and I began regular visits in his cavernous office replete with all sorts of awards, trophies and plaques. On one large section of wall was the nearly life-size, well-known picture of Ruby shooting Oswald. But, more than those memorabilia, he had lots of stuffed wildlife on his walls. He loved hunting and the outdoors.
What he also loved was talking politics. Aha! The great man and I had something in common. And, we spent a lot of time doing just that over the next several years.
Since the gifted lawyer had a colorful reputation, he tried to live up to it in some ways.
Tonahill’s ranch, a tract that, true to the area, contained a sizable number of pine trees and was named Sherwood Forest. For those not immersed in adventures, Sherwood Forest is the “home” of Robin Hood, famed English “outlaw,” about whom a number of movies have been made. According to legend, Robin Hood robbed the rich and gave it to the poor.
Tonahill did enjoy his wealth — he had two Rolls Royce automobiles, one red and the other yellow. However, he drove a Ford pickup powered by propane. So, he practiced what his politics preached.
I believe Tonahill’s use of the Sherwood Forest name represented his thinking that in winning personal injury cases and high awards for clients, he was essentially taking from the “haves” and giving it to the “have-nots.”
The soft-spoken lawyer was a participant in the political process and gave lots of money to elected officials.

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