Baylor Mourns Passing of Legendary Law Professor Matt "Mad Dog" Dawson

  • Dawson faculty photo
    Professor Matt Dawson of Baylor Law School
  • Dawson with students
    Professor Matt Dawson of Baylor Law School with Baylor Law students in the 1970s when he assumed the mantle of law professor and director of the Practice Court (PC) program.
  • Dawson trophy
    Baylor Law Professor Matt Dawson's mock trial teams won two national competitions and nearly every regional competition in a period of 10 years.
  • A Baylor Law faculty photo features the legendary Law Professor Matt Dawson (center) as well as Dean Angus McSwain (bottom left) and Judge Abner McCall (bottom right).
  • Dawson statue
    In 2009, a life-sized bronze statue of Professor Matt Dawson was unveiled at the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center and stands watch outside a Practice Court classroom.
  • Dawson
    Professor Matt Dawson of Baylor Law School
  • Dawson with current students
    Baylor Law Professor Matt Dawson with current law students
Feb. 18, 2015

Giant in the Texas legal profession died Feb. 17 at age of 98

Contact: Berkley Knas, Baylor Law School, 254-710-4346

Follow Baylor Media Communications on Twitter: @BaylorUMedia

NOTE: Baylor Law School has created a memorial website, Remembering the Legend: Matt “Mad Dog” Dawson, 1916-2015, that includes a comprehensive tribute to Professor Dawson, as well as photos, articles and news stories about the legendary lawyer and professor.

WACO, Texas (Feb. 18, 2015) – Baylor University is mourning the passing of Baylor Law School Professor Matt Dawson, a towering figure in the Texas legal profession and a cherished member of the Baylor Law School family. Dawson died Tuesday, Feb. 17, at the age of 98.

Services will be held at 2 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20, at First Baptist Church, Waco, 500 Webster Ave., with Dr. Matt Snowden officiating. Visitation will be 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19, at Wilkirson-Hatch-Bailey Funeral Home, 6101 Bosque Blvd. in Waco.

A Baylor University and Baylor Law graduate, Professor Dawson was the director of Baylor Law’s top-ranked Practice Court (PC) program for 13 years.

“Matt was one of the giants of our profession . . . and one of the greats of life,” said Baylor Law Dean Brad Toben. “He was so proud of, and an inveterate cheerleader for, Baylor Law and all that Baylor Lawyers represent. He counted his years as Practice Court professor as an apex in his long career as a trial lawyer.”

“Like all, I admired him deeply for who he was, how he lived his life and for the example he set for all of us in the profession,” Toben said. “This is a great loss for his family, for his friends, for our profession and for the legions who were touched by his life. The likes of him will not pass this way again.”

Dawson was one of the early shining lights of the trial bar in Texas and was on everyone’s list of greats in the bar. His practice in the courtroom was for decades a testimony to the extraordinary gifts of advocacy with which Dawson was blessed. His career in the courtroom also was a testimony to the brilliance of the nation’s jury system when the profession is a good steward and protector of it.

“Professor Dawson’s profound impact as a teacher and a revered mentor is recognized far and wide in the Baylor Law School community and beyond,” said Baylor President and Chancellor Ken Starr, holder of The Louise L. Morrison Chair of Constitutional Law at Baylor Law School.

“His quiet work was his philanthropic investment in Baylor Law School and the manner in which he modeled philanthropy for his students. As a Practice Court director he would invite his students to his ranch to gather pecans so that the harvest could be sold and the proceeds applied to a scholarship at Baylor Law School. Ever the teacher, Professor Dawson was teaching his students an important lesson about giving back to the school that was giving so much to them.

“We have lost a remarkable friend, a great man and a superb lawyer, who was consummately dedicated to his craft,” Starr said.

Born in Waco on March 20, 1916, Dawson’s life was linked to Baylor since birth. His father, J.M. Dawson, was the pastor of First Baptist Church in Waco for 32 years, a Baylor alumnus, distinguished author and ardent advocate of religious liberty and the separation of church and state. In 1957, Baylor established the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies. Dawson’s mother, Willy Turner Dawson, was a much sought-after speaker across the country and worked to make sure young women attending Baylor had a suitable place to live. Dawson Residence Hall is named after her.

For a time, Dawson and his siblings lived on Fifth Street in an area that became part of the Baylor campus where Waco Hall stands today.

Dawson graduated from Waco High School in 1933 and promptly enrolled at Baylor, where was involved in debate and theater in preparation for becoming a trial lawyer. In 1938 at 22, he graduated from Baylor with a bachelor of arts in English and speech, and from Baylor Law School. Dawson also completed post-graduate work at what is now the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

At Baylor, Dawson met his lifelong friend, Abner V. McCall, who would later serve as Baylor President from 1961 to 1981. Before graduating from Baylor Law School, the two were chosen by Baylor Law Professor and Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court James P. Alexander to clerk for him.

After graduating from Baylor Law, they formed a law practice in Longview. However, it started dissolving when McCall returned to Baylor Law to begin teaching and ended when Baylor Law School was closed for the duration of World War II.

In 1942, Dawson was elected Gregg County judge and served for almost two years until he joined the Navy in 1944. After an early discharge in 1946, he began working as a trial attorney at his brother’s law firm Davis, Jester, Tyson & Dawson in Corsicana, where he would stay until 1971. In those 25 years, Dawson became renowned in Texas legal circles as a trial lawyer who was fierce, tenacious and effective.

In 1971, after 35 years of trying lawsuits and learning lessons from his adversaries, the legendary trial lawyer assumed the mantle of law professor and director of the Practice Court (PC) program at Baylor Law School. His demand for excellence earned him the affectionate nickname “Mad Dog” among his students. His mock trial teams won two national competitions and nearly every regional competition in a period of 10 years.

Under Dawson, the PC program added “mini-trials” that consisted of opening statements, examination of witnesses and final arguments. The mini-trials became the model for the mock trials at the National Trial Competition, sponsored by the American College of Trial Lawyers.

As a result of Dawson’s mini-trial competition innovation, Baylor Law awards the "Mad Dog" — an 18-inch bronze statuette of Matt — to the student winner of the Bob and Karen Wortham “Mad Dog” Practice Court competition.

After Dawson retired from teaching in 1983, he resumed his profession as trial lawyer for another two decades. His long list of professional honors include such distinctions as Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers — the first inductee from a small Texas city; Outstanding 50-Year Lawyer, as named by the Texas Bar Foundation; one of Texas Lawyer’s 100 Lawyer Legends of the 20th Century; and Texas Monthly’s oldest Super Lawyer for 2005, 2006 and 2007.

With all he accomplished over the more than 65 years of his practice as a trial lawyer, Dawson always has held that his greatest achievement and honor was as a teacher of law at his beloved Baylor Law School. He repeatedly talked about how important scholarship endowment is to the Law School because he saw a Baylor Law education as an opportunity that had to be available to those deserving the privilege even if they could not otherwise afford it.

In 2009, a life-sized bronze statue of Dawson was unveiled at the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center and stands watch outside a Practice Court classroom.

Dawson was preceded in death by his wife of 60 years, Princess Louise. He is survived by five children and their spouses, Donna and Dr. Robert Fisher of Phoenix, Arizona; Rebecca and Jon Brumley of Fort Worth; Mark Dawson of Waco; Carol Dawson of Austin; and John and Allie Dawson of Henderson, Texas. He also is survived by numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren, relatives and dear friends.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

ABOUT BAYLOR LAW SCHOOL

Established in 1857, Baylor Law School was the first law school in Texas and one of the first west of the Mississippi River. Today, the school has more than 7,000 living alumni. It is accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools. Baylor Law School has a record of producing outstanding lawyers, many of whom decide upon a career in public service. The Law School boasts two governors, members or former members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, two former directors of the FBI, U.S. ambassadors, federal judges, justices of the Texas Supreme Court and members of the Texas Legislature, among its notable alumni. In its law specialties rankings, U.S. News & World Report ranked Baylor Law’s trial advocacy program as the third best in the nation. Baylor Law School is also ranked No. 51 in the magazine’s 2015 edition of “America’s Best Graduate Schools.” The National Jurist ranks Baylor Law in its top 10 law schools for practical training, and second best value in private legal education in the nation. The Business Insider places Baylor Law among the top 50 law schools in the nation. Learn more at www.baylor.edu/law.

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