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Judge Truman McGill Hobbs, Sr. Memorial Resolution

May 3, 2017 - 00:00

On Wednesday, May 3 the Alabama Middle District was proud to present the Memorial Resolution honoring our very own Judge Truman McGill Hobbs, Sr. to Mrs. Joyce Hobbs and family. The ceremony took place in Courtroom 2D, where Judge Hobbs presided for over three decades. A reception to celebrate the occasion followed.

Speaking that day were Honorable Ed Carnes (Chief U.S. Circuit Judge), Honorable W. Keith Watkins (Chief U.S. District Judge), and Honorable Judges W. Harold Albritton III and Myron H. Thompson (Senior U.S. District Judges). Special guests Bobby Segall, Lee Copeland, and Kenneth Mendelsohn also gave remarks of their time spent with Judge Hobbs.

Attorney Richard Gill gave the presentation and reading of the Memorial Resolution, which is included here in full:

Judicial Council of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit
Memorial Resolution Honoring
Truman M. Hobbs, Sr.
United States District Judge

Few men can have lived so long and successful a life in all its aspects as Truman Hobbs, Sr. It was a life of service, honor, courage and dedication to his community, his country, his family, and his profession. It was a life filled with honors, with achievement, with joy, and with the sorrow that a life of loving others can bring.

Truman Hobbs was blessed with vast natural gifts of intellect, education, energy, and charm, all of which he put to the service of others in a wide range of experience and activity. Yet throughout his long life, he was essentially unaware of himself, always self-effacing and honestly modest. Until the very last years of his life even those close to him never knew of his heroic naval career, for which he was awarded not only the bronze star, but the rare distinction of the Navy-Marine Corps Medal for Heroism, an honor shared by a handful of distinguished sailors, including Presidents John F. Kennedy, and George H.W. Bush. He was one of the most creative, devastatingly effective courtroom advocates Alabama has ever seen, but was so courteous and so professional that when he was appointed to the Federal Bench in 1980, he was described as the most popular lawyer in Alabama. After one triumphant trial, someone asked what had happened to the adversary, and was told, “Truman Hobbs happened to them.” Juries listened to him with rapt attention; yet, he was totally un-self-conscious and totally unaware of the effect of his presence. His integrity and honesty with the facts were powerfully persuasive.

His father (also a man of great gifts), was Congress-man Sam Hobbs of Selma, and was a self-professed “country lawyer” who believed deeply in the values of education and public service. Truman was able to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was both a gifted student (Student Body President, Phi Beta Kappa) and a gifted athlete (he had the highest grade point average of any varsity athlete). His skill as a swimmer led him to volunteer for hazardous duty naval service as a diver, and he served four years during World War II, both in Europe at such sites as Anzio, and in the Pacific. He was discharged as a Lieutenant-commander, and returned to attend Yale Law School. Although he initially resisted accepting a clerkship for Justice Hugo Black on the Supreme Court (because he felt he was “too old” due to his wartime delay in attending law school), Truman was persuaded by his law school Dean and by Justice Black to serve as a law clerk. Truman always credited Justice Black with teaching not only hard work, but careful analytical thinking, clear analysis, and clear writing.

Those attributes were evident throughout Truman’s law practice and judicial service (he had an uncanny instinct for the essential element, the controlling fact, the clear rule of law; he always preferred the short, clear, direct expression, and cautioned young lawyers against over-wrought and complex “German sentences”).

Judge Hobbs returned to Alabama where he soon joined his old Selma companion, Judge John Godbold, as a young lawyer in the firm headed by Judge Richard T. Rives. In a unique moment in 1980, Truman was sworn in and his commissions presented by his two former partners, John Godbold and Richard Rives, both having then become successive Chief Judges of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

While in private practice, Judge Hobbs served as President of the Alabama Bar Association, the Alabama Trial Lawyers’ Association (of which he, John Godbold and Chief Justice Howell Heflin were among the founders) and President of the Montgomery County Bar. He had an enormously successful career as a trial lawyer, and as a wise and valued counsellor. He was appointed to the Federal Bench in 1980 by President Carter and served as Chief Judge of the Middle District from 1984―1991; and then as a senior judge from 1991 until his death in November 2015.

Truman and his beloved wife of 66 years, Joyce Cumming Hobbs, quietly were among the most generous citizens Montgomery has known, but regularly declined to seek or receive public recognition. There is almost no charitable enterprise in Montgomery which has not benefitted from the Hobbs’ quiet generosity. Over their reluctance, Truman and Joyce nonetheless were the recipients of The de Tocqueville Society’s Award for lifetime philanthropy, and Huntingdon College created and named the Joyce and Truman Hobbs Honors Program for students who “live out the meaning of ‘honor’ in both their individual lives and as a body of scholar-citizens.”

Judge Hobbs was a man of great humor, wisdom and belief in the goodness of others. He had an astonishing ability to listen to all sides of an issue or dispute, and then clearly identify the right and fair answer. He advised many clients to abandon wrong-headed or spiteful positions, and to reach sound, fair outcomes. He once said that all of his most spectacular trial victories came when his opponents refused to reason or to compromise or to find a just path. Juries regularly agreed with Truman when he presented the contrast in such a path and the adversary’s adamancy. To all who were fortunate enough to know him, he was the wisest and kindest of men; he possessed an endless love of life, humor, stories, practical jokes and experiences.

When he died at age 94, while he had tragically lost his oldest son Dexter to leukemia, he was survived by a large family—his second son, now a state court judge; his two daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, whom he loved, and of whom he was immensely proud. His grandchildren all called him, in the highest complimentary meaning, “Atticus Finch.” No memorial resolution can capture so broad a palette of life, of service, of courage, kindness, wisdom and generosity. He truly fit Shakespeare’s description of Brutus, that the elements were so mixed in him, that nature might stand up and say to all the world: this was a man.

The President of Huntingdon College, on the occasion of the creation of the Hobbs’ Honors Program, noted that Truman believed that all the recognition and all the honors would mean nothing were a life not undergirded by a way of living that is honorable. That way of living described Judge Truman McGill Hobbs, Sr., and we shall not see many like him.

Adopted this 15th day of April, 2016, at Montgomery, Alabama.
Ed Carnes, Chief Judge
James P. Gerstenlauer, Secretary

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Judge Reference

Honorable W. Keith Watkins Honorable W. Harold Albritton, III Honorable Myron H. Thompson