Skip to comments.Attorney Joe Tonahill Dies
Posted on 11/07/2001 7:12:34 AM PST by lonestar
BY MIKE LOUT -Joe Tonahill was the last living person connected to the Jack Ruby trial.
Jasper attorney Joe Tonahill is dead at the age of 88. Tonahill, not only one of Jaspers pioneer attorneys but a legend throughout the region, succumbed to a lung condition known as Hypoxia shortly after noon Tuesday and was pronounced dead at his home.
A native of Hughes Springs and a former resident of Port Arthur, Tonahill was a graduate of the University of Texas and the Washington College of Law. He was admitted to the State Bar in 1941.
He received the most attention in 1964 when he assisted in the defense of Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby, who was accused of shooting Lee Harvey Oswald on nationwide TV following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. When discussing the case in an interview with Irven Box, Tonahill stated he was last living person connected with the trial.
a former resident of Port Arthur,
Those location's would be in S.E. Texas for those interested....
That would be in N.E. Texas, for those interested. :)
By BETH GALLASPY
JASPER - After a career that spanned more than half a century and included the defense of Jack Ruby in the tangled assassination of John F. Kennedy, legendary lawyer Joe Tonahill died Tuesday at his home here, two days after his 88th birthday.
"He was bigger than life," said former police chief Harlan Alexander, who worked Tonahill's cattle for four decades. "He was as good a friend as a person could have. I admired and respected him for 40 years."
In a 1998 interview, Tonahill said he still believed in the defense of his best-known client, Jack Ruby. Tonahill's theory was that Ruby shot Kennedy-assassin Lee Harvey Oswald while in epileptic shock triggered by flashing lights around Oswald as he exited the Dallas police station. Tonahill won a new trial for Ruby, but Ruby died in jail.
That case is probably the one Tonahill will be best remembered for, said plaintiff attorney Walter Umphrey.
"That's the one he likes to talk about the most. There's a huge mural of Ruby behind his desk," Umphrey said.
"He's the epitome of a Texas trial lawyer both in civil and criminal law," Umphrey said of Tonahill, one of the founders of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association.
Watching Tonahill in action, Umphrey said, "I'd just sit there and listen to him in awe sometimes. He had a way with people, and he was sincere. He was a heck of a lawyer."
Criminal defense attorney Lum Hawthorn said he first met Tonahill, a family friend, while a high school or college student.
"He was always a hero of mine. His stature was gigantic in the legal community and on the national level," Hawthorn said. "But he always had time for younger lawyers. He spent a lot of time with me. He was always willing to be accessible and answer any questions."
State District Judge Jim Mehaffy of Beaumont called Tonahill "a fantastic lawyer and a role model for everyone who knew him. He was just one of those icons and personalities the likes of which you just don't see any more."
Tonahill and U.S. District Judge Joe Fisher, who died in June 2000, were roommates at the University of Texas and fraternity brothers in Delta Kappa Epsilon before becoming law partners, said Tonahill's daughter, Mildred Tonahill Elmore.
Those college days remained important to her father, Elmore said.
"Every time he greeted somebody it was with Hook 'em Horns," she said.
It was also with kindness, she said. "He was always giving people things. He'd see something, think of you and mail it to you," Elmore said. "He was always giving people things whether they asked for them or not. He helped so many people get started in business."
State District Judge Joe Bob Golden of Jasper said his first job out of law school was as Fisher's first law clerk. His second was practicing law with Tonahill's Jasper firm.
"I guess three men other than my daddy had more of an influence on me than anyone else. That was Harvey Penick, Joe Fisher and Joe Tonahill," Golden said. "And loved him like a father."
A U.S. Navy veteran stationed in the Pacific during World War II, Tonahill was a strong, fair, loving and proud father, Elmore said.
Because she was born during the war, "I didn't see him until I was maybe a year old. I took my first step in front of his entire crew," she said, though her father sometimes bragged that it was in front of the entire Navy.
Tonahill is survived by four daughters, Elmore and Susie Hile of Austin, Rebecca Tonahill of Houston, and Anne Tonahill Smith of Jasper; two sons, Howard Worth Smith Tonahill of Littleton, Colo., and Joe H. Tonahill Jr. of Vail and Denver, Colo., 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be 2 p.m. Friday at First United Methodist Church in Jasper. Arrangements with Stringer & Griffin Funeral Home are incomplete.
Reporter Beth Gallaspy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (409) 833-3311 ext. 425.
The Oswalds played their last gig...