Remembering Frank Drowota and John Waters - Articles

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Posted by: William Haltom on Jun 1, 2018

Journal Issue Date: Jun 2018

Journal Name: June 2018 - Vol. 54, No. 6

During the course of one weekend in April, the Tennessee Bar Association lost two icons. On Saturday, April 14, John Waters passed away in Sevierville. On the following day, Frank Drowota passed away in Nashville.

John Waters was a colorful Tennessee lawyer and a true leader.

For many years he served as chair of the TVA Board of Directors and also as chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission.

He also made Tennessee history as one of the architects of the modern Republican Party in Tennessee. In 1964, he chaired the Senate campaign of his UT Law School roommate, Howard Baker Jr.

John also served as president of the Tennessee Bar Association in 1983-1984.

John was a dear friend of mine, and I have two personal stories to share about him.

First, John gave the most memorable “inaugural address” of any president of the Tennessee Bar Association. After being sworn in as TBA President in 1983, he faced his audience of lawyers and judges and said, “It is traditional for the incoming president of the Tennessee Bar Association to state his goals for the association for the coming year. I have thought a lot about this, and here are my goals for the TBA: By the end of my year as president, I want every lawyer in Tennessee to be rich, thin and sexy!”

My other favorite story about John is that he absolutely loved cornbread. Several years ago he self-published a little recipe book titled Cornbread on Joy Street. Joy Street was the wonderful little street in Sevierville where John grew up and learned to make cornbread. In the memorable introduction to his book, John wrote, “In Luke 4:4, Jesus says, ‘It is written, “Man cannot live by bread alone.”

I would add, ‘Unless it’s cornbread!’”


Frank Drowota served on the Tennessee Supreme Court for 25 years, making him the second-longest serving justice in state history. During that period, he was twice elected chief justice, and at the time of his retirement, he was the longest-serving active state court judge in Tennessee.

Frank Drowota was the personification of civility and collegiality, even in the most contentious cases.

I was very close to Chief Justice Drowota because we had something in common and often talked about. We were both “PKs” — preacher’s kids.

Both of us had families who had expected us to grow up to be ministers like our fathers.

In a 2006 interview conducted as part of the Tennessee Bar Foundation Fellows’ Legal History Project, Justice Drowota recalled, “They [his family] were very disappointed when I went into the law. But, as I told my dad, I never felt the call [to the ministry], and that is one profession where I think you really need to have the call to devote yourself to that.”

But Frank Drowota then added, “I’ve always looked upon the law as kind of my ministry. I think lawyers … and others in Tennessee who give of themselves to pro bono and so many outside activities, I think they are ministers.”

No doubt about it, Frank Drowota got the call to the ministry … the ministry of law… and he accepted it. [Read more about him in this Tennessee Bar Journal feature, “Called to Serve,” from August 2005 at]

We were blessed to share a life and a profession with John Waters and Frank Drowota.

Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a shareholder with the firm of Lewis Thomason. He is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and a past president of the Memphis Bar Association. Read his blog at