Bristol's Own Atticus Finch
Bristol’s Own Atticus Finch
In the multiple Oscar award-winning movie, To Kill A Mockingbird, the protagonist is a small-town attorney who goes by the name of Atticus Finch. If you’ve never seen it, please put it on your list. The movie is generally regarded by most qualified reviewers as one of the greatest and most influential movies of all time.
Atticus is, of course, a work of fiction. However, in “real life”, right here in our midst, a very real Atticus has lived out his life among us.
So why wouldn’t most of us generally be aware of this, if it were true? Well, that’s just the thing. People with the character of Atticus Finch don’t call attention to themselves. They are inherently humble. So humble, in fact, that they can live out their whole lives going virtually unnoticed, undervalued, and underappreciated.
Yes, I believe there are many such souls among us (and I intend to bring those I know to light in this column). The reader’s mind is possibly even wandering to admirable thoughts of such people you know personally right now. A person who too few will ever know, but who humbly influences the lives of many; and whose light shines brightest among us when things grow dark.
Such a person is Bristol’s Ed Stout.
Ed, like me, was a school teacher once upon a time. Then he was led into practicing the law. Graduating near the top of his class at Emory University, Ed settled with his loving wife (a local school teacher with whom I was privileged to teach) right here in Bristol.
Brilliant of mind and humble of heart, Ed was and is a man of few words. Kind of interesting that an attorney would talk so little. I have been fortunate in my life to count many barristers and judges as personal friends (due largely to my decades of service in teaching and helping inmates at the Bristol Jail). I cannot name one who spoke fewer words than Ed. In fact, most were quite loquacious. I’ll go so far as to say some talked a bit more than they listened. (Notice I did say “some”, my friends. The great majority of local attorneys and judges I have been privileged to meet have actually been very good listeners, I am thankful to attest.)
But no one I know “listened” better than Ed Stout. It was perhaps his greatest asset as an attorney – and as a human being.
I was privileged to see Ed in action several times.
He represented many of the jail inmates I taught. This man, who no doubt could have become a highly-paid corporate lawyer in a big city, chose instead to humbly serve within our small town and community.
Whenever Ed represented indigent inmates or the economically challenged of our region, he made only “chicken scratch” money. Yet he took such cases often. And he represented these people with the same fervor and due diligence had he been representing the richest and most powerful among us.
I can vouch. I saw it. Firsthand.
“Due process of the law”. Much like Atticus Finch, Ed Stout remained an ardent believer in the ultimate foundation of our American justice system (even when he, like Atticus, saw it fail to find true justice at times). Ed believed that our courts generally and honorably sought the truth (in spite of occasional and inevitable human error). In fact, there are some local judges about whom I intend to write sometime; remarkable people they were and are. The words “your honor” were not wasted when addressing them.
Ed represented many men whom I personally taught at the jail. He always represented them well. The men would come to my class saying, “My lawyer don’t say much. But he really listens to me.” Oh, that every young attorney could watch Ed Stout in action just once! They’d realize that “less” can often mean “more”.
Once Ed even represented me.
A neighbor had falsely accused of me of something. Yes, it can happen to any of us, at any time, my friends.
So Ed came to court with me. Either of the judges I expected to be there (Butch Flannagan or Larry Kirksey) were not. (It can be a great advantage if a judge knows your character when you enter a courtroom. Justice strives to be blind, yes. But it cannot remove from memory what it already knows to be true.)
The appointed judge for that day (whom I did not know) listened intently while the plaintiff spoke incessantly.
Ed hardly spoke a word on my behalf. In spite of our friendship, I was getting a bit worried that things may not end well.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial