His resume reads like the history of the prominent small-town lawyer that he is. Law degree from a top law school, followed by 42 years in private practice, most of it in the county where he grew up. Leadership as president of the Pell City Chamber of Commerce and as chairman of the Pell City School Board. At the end of the day he goes home to a family farm of which he is the second-generation owner.
Along the way, Dwight Blair has represented clients in lawsuits against some of Alabama’s top corporations, including the state’s largest investor-owned utility. And he has come out on the winning end of a majority of those contests.
Winning got into his blood at an early age. The young St. Clair County student lettered in football, baseball and basketball at Leeds High School in the late 1960s.
“Leeds was very competitive at the time and still is. We had a 7-3 football record my senior year, and retired the Dental Clinic trophy. That gave us three consecutive dental clinic wins, giving us the right to retire that trophy. It sits to this day in the trophy case at Leeds High School.”
He credits his high school football coach for much of that early success. “Coach Homer Smiles was a great leader of young men. He had a significant influence on me because he expected only the best from everyone. You didn’t want to disappoint Coach Smiles. There would be hell to pay.”
Equally proficient at baseball, Blair was drafted by the L.A. Dodgers right out of high school in June 1968. But the first stirrings of a possible career in law were already taking hold. He huddled with his family to discuss his options, and what emerged was the decision to pursue an undergraduate degree at Vanderbilt University in Nashville with law school to follow.
It helped that Vanderbilt offered him a football scholarship. Vanderbilt, however, was always known as a top academic school – not a football powerhouse. But there, as a starting tailback/fullback for the Commodores, Blair says he began to develop the discipline and mental toughness needed for success in years to come by taking the field 11 Saturday afternoons each fall and giving his best for what was then not a winning football program. He learned the value of mental toughness, of giving it all even while opposing teams such as Tennessee or Alabama or Ole Miss proved to be worthy opponents.
“It was tough, I can tell you that,” says Blair, leaning back in his chair. “We ended up losing more games than winning, but you could not let up, regardless of who you were playing.”
He grins as he tells a story from 1971. “Every spring, Coach Pace would divide us into two squads that would play each other in a practice game. My team was occupying the visitor dressing room, with the other half of the squad occupying the home locker room. Our coach was one of the assistants, and in trying to get us fired up going into the second half, he said ‘I just want you to remember that there have been a lot more winners come out of this dressing room than the other.’ We just groaned when he said that.” Thanks Coach!
Despite the varsity team’s lackluster performance, Blair pointed out that the freshman squad, for which he played tailback during 1968, had an undefeated season. “The freshman team played only a five-game season, but we played some tough schools. That year we beat Ole Miss, Tennessee, Louisville, Kentucky and Alabama.” He also led the SEC in freshman scoring, with eight touchdowns in those five games.
But there were wins, some of them big. “Our most significant win was the 1969 game when we beat Alabama 14-10 there in Nashville. Even though I did not play in that game due to a knee injury, that game was the highlight of my time at Vanderbilt. But Alabama beat us the next two years.”
Following graduation from Vanderbilt in 1972 with a Bachelor of Arts in history and a minor in German, Blair came back to Alabama, entering Samford’s Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham where he received his Juris Doctor in 1975. Following a clerkship with Gaines Hereford & Cleckler, a local St. Clair County firm, he went to work for them full time.
“We were known as the kudzu law firm with our offices in Leeds, Pell City, Ashville and Talladega. People thought we would set up an office just about anywhere.”
When Bill Hereford later became a circuit judge, Blair formed a partnership with Elizabeth Parsons, with whom he has been in practice since the early 1980s in what became a thriving litigation, personal injury, civil trial, environmental law, and real estate practice. The two partners offer a combined nearly 80 years of legal experience.
His client base and reputation grew, and so did the magnitude of his cases. In the mid 1980s Blair represented a plaintiff whose husband was killed in a utility accident, seeking $1 million in total damages. The defendant was one of Alabama’s largest and best-known corporations.
“Just before the trial that company offered us $10,000 to settle, which we rejected. The jury came back with a $1 million verdict, which was the first million-dollar jury verdict in St. Clair County (the previous highest verdict was less than $100,000). Afterward, the jury foremen told me they would have awarded us more if we had just asked.”
In 1980, Pell City decided to break away from the St. Clair County school system and set up their own school board. Blair provided legal services to the city, and afterward was asked to serve as the chairman of the new Pell City Board of Education, a position he held for 10 years. He has also served as president of the Pell City Chamber of Commerce in 1983, and as a member of the Pell City Industrial Development Board. On the professional side, he also served a term as a member of the Board of Commissioners of the Alabama State Bar.
Blair can cite several parallels between college football and success as an attorney. “You have to be prepared to change your game plan, whether in the courtroom or on the football field. You had better be able to change your strategies if something happens you didn’t count on. In a trial, like a game, things are not always going to go as you planned. If you can’t react quickly, you may not be successful. You had better plan for the unexpected, or you may be sorely disappointed.”
A featured attorney from the SEC College Football Special Issue.