TBA Law Blog

Posted by: William Harbison on May 1, 2016

Journal Issue Date: May 2016

Journal Name: May 2016 - Vol. 52, No. 5

The subject of mentor relationships between older and younger lawyers is a staple for bar associations. I was fortunate to have a number of experienced lawyers as mentors and role models when I started practicing. Now that I am a bit older myself, I enjoy interacting with younger lawyers. As I noted in an earlier column, we both have things to teach one another.

I am sparked to write about mentors now because of a recent personal experience that I have received permission to share. I helped a lawyer friend in Nashville named Elizabeth (“Punky”) Smith prepare her estate plan a number of years ago. She had been battling cancer, and sadly she died a couple of weeks ago. Her brother is the executor of her estate. He showed me an instruction that Elizabeth left, which was so poignant to me that I knew I wanted it to be mentioned in this article.

Elizabeth left instructions for a memorial to be given to the Nashville Bar Association in memory of Rebecca Thomas, whom she named as a mentor to her. “Becky” Thomas died a number of years ago, having lived to old age.

Becky Thomas was a lawyer in Nashville when I started practicing, and she was a good friend to my parents and to me. She was admitted to the bar in 1939. It is no exaggeration to say that Becky was a pioneer in the legal profession — a woman who practiced law actively and successfully when there were very few women members of the Nashville bar. She was the first woman on the Nashville Bar Association board and served as secretary of the Tennessee Bar Association from 1974 to 1984. In 1999 the Nashville Bar Association recognized her with a special honor for her long service in the profession. She was quite elderly at the time, and her longtime law partner Connie Summers brought her to the event. Mr. Summers was a law school classmate of my father; they graduated from law school in 1950. 

I have known Elizabeth for many years, and I knew that her practice was in the real estate area. She was a blessing to everyone with whom she interacted, always a model of helpfulness and courtesy. I was completely unaware of the influence that Becky Thomas had on Elizabeth until I read her instructions for the memorial — and noted that this was written only days before her death. The memorial is all the more significant because Becky has been gone for years, but she was on Elizabeth’s mind a couple of weeks ago as she was dying. 

We are all connected in the legal profession. I am so appreciative of the lesson that Elizabeth Smith left for us in the form of her gratitude to her mentor, Becky Thomas. We are fortunate to be part of a community that has provided so many examples of the best kind of mentoring.

Bill Harbison WILLIAM L. HARBISON is a member of Sherrard & Roe PLC in Nashville with a general civil practice. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a past president of the Nashville Bar Association.

Read Elizabeth Smith’s obituary in this month's Passages.