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Walter Umphrey was a legal giant who helped SE Texas in countless ways

Walter Umphrey was a legal giant who helped SE Texas in countless ways


Walter Umphrey had such a tremendous impact on his profession and the region that it is impossible to summarize his accomplishments in any collection of words shorter than a book. But this comes as close as anything: He may have done more for the people of Southeast Texas than any single individual.

He did it by changing the law so that people who were harmed by a corporation or a substance could finally get some compensation for their losses.

He did it by donating countless millions of dollars to philanthropic causes across this region.

He did it by staying here — by not leaving for Houston or Dallas after he had made an incredible fortune.

Walter Umphrey did all of that and more, and we are all better for it.

His greatest influence was in personal injury litigation, with his incredible knowledge of the law and magnetic courtroom persona. Though it may seem hard to believe now, before Walter Umphrey and a few other visionary lawyers came along, people who were hurt or killed by large, powerful forces often received little or no settlement for their pain and suffering. They were supposed to understand that they worked in a dangerous industry or had bad luck in an accident.

Umphrey wouldn’t accept that. Deep in his heart, he knew that these people — or their survivors — deserved something, often from very wealthy corporations that could afford to pay for the damage they caused. Victims of benzene, asbestos and tobacco benefited from this long overdue change in the law. If Umphrey and a small number of other legal pioneers hadn’t forged this change, the victims of OxyContin and their families would have never received billions of dollars from the Sackler family this year.

And by doing this, Umphrey made these corporations realize that they couldn’t just treat workers and consumers like disposable products. They began to operate more safely and responsibly, saving countless other lives in the process.

But after Umphrey made an incredible sum of money from his legal cases, he made sure to spread it around this state and our region. He stayed in Southeast Texas, and he stayed involved.

He invested in business all over and created countless jobs — in banking, in real estate, in nurseries and a motorcycle dealership. And from the Provost Umphrey Stadium where the Lamar Cardinals play football to the Walter Umphrey State Park on Pleasure Island to the Umphrey Family Pavilion on Lake Sam Rayburn, his public legacy is impossible to miss. It is also impossible to count the number of lives that have been improved by these donations and the huge contribution he has made to our quality of life.

And for every donation he made publicly, there are probably just as many he made privately, helping someone in need or some organization when they had no one else to turn to. As long as Walter Umphrey was around, they had someone who would listen to them. He had come from humble circumstances, and he understood the people of this region at a human level and their blue-collar work ethic.

He made a difference, in his profession, in his community, in a huge and positive way. He was indeed a living legend, a trailblazer and a leader. Walter Umphrey will truly be missed, because there will never be another person like him.


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