Baylor Law Helps a Surprised Matt Dawson Celebrate his 90th Birthday
by Alan Hunt, (254) 710-6271
A surprise 90th birthday celebration awaited Baylor Law Professor Emeritus Matt Dawson when he visited the Law School this week. Faculty, staff members and law alumni gathered in the faculty lounge to greet the former Practice Court director and legendary Texas attorney.
The unsuspecting Dawson was drawn to the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center on a ruse by Dean Brad Toben, who told Dawson that he had finally arranged a long-sought lunch date with a mutual colleague of theirs from Dallas. Dawson was even treated to an elaborate birthday cake bearing the message "Happy Birthday to Mad Dog," the nickname used by his anxious Practice Court students over the years.
Dawson served as the director of the Law School's nationally acclaimed Practice Court from 1971 through 1983. Although still active in his Corsicana law firm, he often concedes that his heart still belongs to Baylor and the Baylor campus, where he was raised. He was one of five children born to Dr. J.M. Dawson, a 1904 Baylor graduate and pastor of Waco's First Baptist Church for 32 years, and Willy Turner Dawson, after whom Baylor's Dawson Residence Hall was named.
Said Dawson, "I grew up on a corner of the campus, along with people like (former Watergate prosecutor) Leon Jaworski, and (famed attorneys) Gib Gayle (of Houston), and Clarence Guittard (of Dallas), all of whom lived within a few blocks. What great people to share a home like Baylor."
A 1938 Baylor law graduate, Dawson practiced law in Longview for a number of years after graduation in partnership with his classmate, Abner V. McCall, who later served as Baylor's 10th president from 1961-1981.
Dawson speaks proudly of his two late brothers, Leighton, a talented attorney who graduated with a Baylor law degree in 1933, and Joe, also a 1933 Baylor graduate. Joe Dawson was decorated by General Dwight Eisenhower for bravery in the D-Day invasion during World War II. A captain serving with the famed "Big Red One" - the 1st Infantry Division, Joe Dawson was credited with single-handedly opening up an escape route for American troops who were pinned down by murderous German gunfire on Omaha Beach during the June 6, 1944 D-Day operation.
The Dawson boys' great love of Baylor and Baylor Law School has been generously demonstrated over many decades. Matt Dawson said the university has been a major part of his family for generations and his life has been "very deeply shaped" by those he has had the privilege of working alongside at Baylor. "That's why I love the place so dearly," he said.
Those on hand to greet and congratulate Dawson included Law Dean Emeritus and Professor Emeritus Angus S. McSwain, Jr., aged 82, and Professor Emeritus Ed Horner, who is also aged 90. Combined, the trio have rendered a total of 148 years of service and dedication to Baylor Law School.
Law Dean Brad Toben noted in regard to the three beloved professors, "I always remind my colleagues on the faculty and staff that we did not 'invent' Baylor Law School, but instead only have had the privilege of trying to improve upon an already great school, the modern basis of which was set by the faculty who came on board in the few decades following World War II. What a privilege we have to follow in the footsteps of the greats, including Dean McSwain and Ed, who are with us today to celebrate Matt's 90th."