We grieve the loss, and celebrate the life, of Robert J. Hearon Jr. who passed away Thursday, December 26, at the age of 89.
Bob was a stellar student at the University of Texas School of Law, being named a member of the Chancellors and the Order of the Coif, as well as serving as Editor in Chief of the Texas Law Review. In 1953, while still in law school, Bob was hired as a law clerk at the firm then known as Graves, Dougherty & Greenhill.
Upon his graduation in the spring of 1954, Bob joined the firm as an associate, working alongside Judge Graves. From 1955 to 1957, he served as a 1st Lieutenant in the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps. After his release from the service in 1957, Bob returned to the firm (which ultimately became known as Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody) and worked as a behind-the-scenes author of the briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court in the Tidelands case, a multi-state fight over sovereignty and ownership of several miles of oil-rich submerged tidelands. Bob’s briefing involved enactments and legal doctrines dating back to when Texas first joined the union, and convinced the Supreme Court that Texas owned those lands. That one case is responsible for adding several billion dollars in oil revenues to Texas public education, continuing to this day.
For several decades Bob represented Southwestern Bell (and later AT&T) and Houston Lighting & Power Company in every appeal from administrative agency decisions that either company was involved in. A Renaissance lawyer, Bob also counseled and represented individuals and businesses in Austin in matters large and small. Author of crisp and beautifully written legal briefs, Bob was also a creative and entertaining advocate with a dry wit.
Bob became the leading Texas utility lawyer in an era in which appellate courts made all important state-level decisions. Over time he taught appellate courts not just what they needed to know about the law, the facts and the policies, but how they needed to think about disputed issues of law and fact and policy. Bob pioneered modern administrative law in Texas, as applied to two of the largest and most important industries, telecommunications and electric power. As just one example, his advocacy led to a core principle in Texas administrative law regarding agencies’ limited power to reconsider earlier orders.
Mentor to the next two generations of lawyers at Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody, Bob was a forceful, persuasive and highly successful trial and appellate lawyer. Former Chief Justice Joe Greenhill called Bob the finest appellate lawyer he had ever heard. For two decades Bob served the firm as its managing partner. He trained and inspired the firm’s lawyers, teaching them to serve clients and to handle disputes with integrity and passion. Those who had the privilege of practicing with Bob over many years witnessed his complete dedication to excellence. Bob was a teacher who cared most about the kind of lawyers and people his colleagues would become – the kind of teacher one will always remember and be grateful for when others are long forgotten. Bob had exceedingly high standards, but none higher than those to which he held himself. Bob’s dedication to excellence was unparalleled, and his example continues to inspire us to always strive to look for ways to better serve our clients.
In 2011, he retired from Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody, having risen to the top of his profession while building a law firm dedicated to following his path of excellence. He was the classic example of what it meant to be a Graves Dougherty attorney – he was a lawyer’s lawyer. He will be remembered for his lovely and witty sense of humor. Bob could tell a story and deliver a punchline as only the best orators can do. He had a knack for blending humor into otherwise dry subject matters, often when least expected. We will miss Bob, and we will always be grateful for his professionalism, his leadership, and his model of how to practice law in the grand manner.
The firm also expresses its condolences to our friends – Bob’s wife Genevieve Tarlton Hearon, his children and grandchildren, and his extended family.
The funeral service will be held at Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church at 2 p.m. on Sunday, January 5. Gifts in Bob’s honor can be made to Capacity for Justice P.O. Box 1448 Cedar Park, TX 78630.