BIOGRAPHIES of HENDERSON CO TN

ELMER L. STEWART County judge of Henderson county is Elmer L. Stewart, a native son. Mr. Stewart is the son of the late Marion H. & Sarah Elizabeth (Hart) Stewart, and was born near Lexington Feb. 8, 1900. On November 12, 1928 he was married to the former Miss Orene Threadgill and they have a daughter, Patsy, 10. Mr. Stewart has been practicing law for 25 years and has served as county judge for the past 12 years. From 1932 to 1940 he was county attorney. He holds AB and LLB degrees from the University of Tennessee. He is a member of the Methodist Church, a mason, a member of the Rotary Club and the Henderson County Business Club.

Local Newspaper "People You Know - 23 April 1952".

A modest resident of our town is featured this week in the current stories of Interest People. Elmer Stewart is one of us and has been for most of his life. He is one of Lexington's leading lawyers. Born in the Palestine Community, 6 miles southwest of Lexington, he is the son of the late Marion H. Stewart and Martha Elizabeth Hart Stewart. His mother died when he was very small, his father a few years ago.

He attended county schools and was graduated from Lexington High School in 1921 as valedictorian of his class of 14. Alter graduation he attended University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he first majored in Liberal Arts, then in his senior year switched to Law. He received both his ABA degree and his law degree in 5 years instead of 6. In 1925 he served as a delegate from Phi Delta Phi Legal Fraternity to its convention in Los Angeles, and while there saw the first filming of Ben our with Ramona Navorro in the title role.

While he was at UT he had the honor of earning the highest record in law school ever compiled; it is not known if the record still stands. He says in his modest way that he may have been a little older than the average law student of today. It wasn't hard for him - he enjoyed it. Needless to say, his knowledge of law and his many years of experience have earned him the legal success he possesses. Following his graduation in 1926 he returned to Lexington and began practicing with the late John F. Hall. He took over the practice when his partner moved to Jackson.

He served as Henderson County attorney from 1934 till 1940, and was County Judge from 1940 - 1958. During the time he was county judge Henderson County's consolidation of schools began; a new courthouse was planned with bonds authorized though construction was not begun on the modern new building which replaced the out-wooded one; and a much needed Lexington=-Henderson County Hospital was built. He recalls that when he went out of office the total bonded indebtedness was $100,000. He is now chairman of the Henderson County School Board and is watching with interest the ongoing construction of the new high school which is scheduled for completion by the first of Jan. 1981. The building is planned for the future in view of the large student bodies its accommodates. This year the graduating class number more than 200 in contrast to the 14 when Elmer graduated in 1921.

At a reunion of his class on the occasion of their 55th anniversary, not all 14 were present; some of that number had died. At the new high school the spacious structure will have its own gymnasium which will seat 2700 - 2800 people. This will free the old gym for use by the county schools. Elmer serves as chairman on a number of boards. Besides the school board, he is chairman of the Board of Trustees of the local hospital, former chairman of the Board of Trustees at First United Methodist Church where he has been a member for more than 50 years. He is still on the Board of Trustees, is on the Finance Committee, and for more than 50 years has been a teacher of the men's Sunday School class. While he was chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Church, the present building at the corner of Church and Monroe was built to replace the ancient gray one which had stood there so long. Three new sub-divisions have been planned and the past few years which have taken care to a large extent of the growing population of Lexington. They are Sunset Drive, Cherokee Heights and the Hardin Subdivision, all attractively laid out. He is a charter member of Lexington Rotary Club which dates back to 1936 and is still an active member having served as president in 1940-41. He and Mrs. Stewart attended the Rotary International Convention at Denver Colo. In 1941 where they met people from many foreign countries.

He was married in November 1928 to Miss Orene Threadgill, daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Threadgill. They have a daughter, Patsy (Mrs. Billy Max Woods), Ruth. A little 6 year old daughter, Eleanor Ruth died in 1944. The Stewart home on White St. reflects its owners' love of beautiful things. The yard is Irene's hobby, and is a riot of summer bloom. In April 1956 Lexington was struck by a tornado and the area around the high school and the Stewart home was heavily damaged. Orene and Elmer's house was the only one still standing in their section and it was so badly shaken that much repair work had to be done. In addition to his immediate family, Elmer has a brother, M.H. Stewart, and a sister, Mrs. Flossier Maness, both of Lexington. Another sister, Mrs. Elbert Britt died two years ago.

When asked about his hobbies he put farming as his first love. He enjoys going out to the old family home near Palestine where he has Hereford cattle and grows cotton. He cloys golf for recreation. Judge Stewart, as he is often called, is possessed of a fantastic memory. He can recall many interesting cases in his legal career. His philosophy of life is a good one; Hard work, honest, integrity and clean living.


Interview with Elmer Stewart
By Patricia Merritt - Sun Reporter Jackson TN December 4, 1991

At 91 years of age, his step is a little slower, his eyes a little dimmer. But Elmer Stewart still practices law in his easygoing but thorough manner that mirrors his personality. Stewart, believed to be the oldest practicing attorney in the state, has been a lawyer in his hometown since 1926. And 65 years later, Stewart said he's not willing to take down his shingle yet. He plans to continue to offer his services as long as he's able. Stewart is a spry 91 and said his health is pretty good for a man his age. He lives with his wife, Orene T. Stewart, and his daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter live in Henderson County. I've always enjoyed the law. I had an ambition to be a lawyer in high school. They'll have to carry him out feet first, said Steve Beal, an attorney who works in Stewart's office. Stewart has his opinions on some national and local legal matters of the day. The attorney favors busing to integrate schools; he doesn't personally agree with abortion, but if it is legal, it should be provided for all on a national level; and vigilantism is never an option. In dealing with some issues closer to home, the senior attorney believes that the Henderson County school board should be elected. And if the school board is ruled invalid by the Henderson County Commission, the legislature would have to correct it, because the people will demand that their elected officials stay in office.

Stewart said he's not certain on whether school superintendents should be elected, but said he would lean closer to the side of letting the county commission appoint them. School board members live in the district and are closer to the people, said Stewart, who served as chairman on the school board for four years. He also served as county judge or county executive from 1940 to 1960. "I've always been interested in public office," he said. Regarding his office, Stewart said he runs a tight ship. The elder attorney reports to work faithfully every weekday, with the exception of Wednesday, at about 9 a.m. and leaves at 3 p.m. At one time Stewart handled criminal cases for about 25 years. He now does only civil cases. The attorney represents cases involving land titles for banks and estate settlements with the help of his secretary JoAnn Blankenship Faught, who has worked with Stewart for the last 18 years.

"He's just the best in the world. And still smart as a whip," Faught said. "I've never seen him lose his temper. He's the same with everyone, rich or poor." Stewart is conscientious and tries to please his clients, his secretary said. The attorney is not just in the business for the money. On the whole, Stewart said he believes the legal profession is a honorable one. But he admits there are some bad people in the profession, just like there are in any other field. At his age, Stewart said he's seen some times when people have been on the good and bad side of the law. Like in about 1917; The Henderson County sheriff was shot an killed. Many believed a black man had done it. The sheriff had gone with another officer to a home of a black man in Lexington to arrest him for a "serious" violation of the law, Stewart recounted. The sheriff went to one door and the other officer went to another, he said. A shot rang out from inside the house and hit the sheriff and killed him, Stewart said. The black man then ran off. They caught the colored man the next day about 10 miles from Lexington and strung him up," Stewart said. "He wasn't tried in court."

But some people believed that the other officer's gun could have fired the shot that killed the sheriff. The officer shot through the small house. That was a violation of the law. But those participating in it thought he was guilty. But a lot of abiding citizens were against it," Stewart said. "I don't think there is ever a time when you take the law into your own hands." I thought it was wrong then, and I think its wrong now," he said. There's a right and legal way to punish.

Stewart said laws have changed since he was a young attorney, especially in the last 25 years. I don't think the law has gone backward, but has tried to move forward," he said. One instance Stewart cites is having public defenders. There was once a time when a judge appointed an attorney for those without funds to employ one, he said. But now the public defender is elected to defend people who can't afford representation I think its better to have someone elected. Law is part of every day life, Stewart said.. Everyone has to deal with the law in a law abiding nation.

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