It’s never too late to say “thank you.”
This writer wants to do just that to the Tarrant County Trial Lawyers Association for the honor it bestowed on me two weeks ago — and by extension the paper that I write for — the third annual Laurence “Lanny” Priddy Pursuit of Justice Award for a “courageous pursuit of justice” during a writing career that now is closing in on 43 years. However, in accepting an award in Priddy’s name for courage as a journalist, I have to confess, the courage was never mine.
It was always the courage of others, those who came forward to expose corruption in government, to speak of being raped in prison, to show discrimination in the workplace, blow the whistle on fraud or bullying in a public school or corners cut at a nuclear power plant—all at the risk of not only losing their jobs, but possibly their lives. I was simply their voice.
Lanny Priddy too was a voice for the powerless — and much, much more.
His is a hard act to follow. Priddy, a Korean War veteran who died too soon in 2008 at 67, was truly a “man for all seasons.”
He was a Parker County lawyer who will always be remembered here for winning the infamous case against Tarrant County sheriff David Williams’ “God Pod,” a section of the jail that Williams set up for fundamentalist Christian inmates who were segregated from the general population and were enrolled in strict religious study according to the dictates of Williams’ favorite pastor. For those who had “found Jesus,” there were special privileges. Priddy, a long-time ACLU volunteer, took the case to the Texas Supreme Court on behalf of plaintiffs Michael Huff, a Jehovah’s Witness (whose religion was not accepted by Williams), and TCU religious professor Ron Flowers. In 2001, the court ruled that the God Pod was unconstitutional because it represented only one religious viewpoint.
When he died he was a managing attorney for a non-profit Dallas organization known as Advocacy Inc., representing those who were mentally and physically disadvantaged. He was married to Kim Priddy, whom he met in Korea, and they had a son and daughter.
He received numerous honors including the 2002 Louise McGuigan Civil Libertarian of the Year Award. In Korea he taught English to Korean kids and later taught medical jurisprudence at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine for 12 years.
Priddy, a country music aficionado, also found time to write novels, Critical Evidence, a courtroom drama (to which I gave a thumbs-up review with the only off-note that the sex seemed a “bit gratuitous,” a criticism that drew hearty laughter from Priddy), Winning Passion, about West Texas football (he was born in Sweetwater), and Son of Durango, a sympathetic look at undocumented Mexican immigrants. In addition he was an amateur radio operator who served as a volunteer for the Radio Civil Emergency Service and was a trained storm spotter.
Still, with all of his accomplishments, Lanny Priddy was, in the final analysis, a voice for those who have no voice. There can be no higher calling. It must be the calling of journalists as well.
From time to time it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of that.