Services honoring his life today at Austin’s University Avenue Church of Christ were followed by his burial at the Texas State Cemetery. Flags across Pope’s beloved home state will fly half-staff March 3-7 in his memory, at the request of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Pope was born April 18, 1913, in Abilene and graduated rom Abilene High School. He was a speech major who starred on the Abilene Christian University debate team, played intercollegiate tennis and was elected student body president. He earned his juris doctor in 1937 from The University of Texas at Austin.
He met Allene Nichols in Austin and they wed June 11, 1938.
Pope’s law practice in Corpus Christi with his uncle, W.E. Pope, was interrupted when Jack enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War II. He served on military legal staffs in Corpus Christi; Washington, D.C.; and San Diego, Calif., returning to Corpus Christi following the war. He went on to serve as judge of the 94th District Court (1946-51), as justice in the 4th Court of Civil Appeals (1951-64), as associate justice on the Texas Supreme Court (1964-83) and as the 23rd chief justice (1983-85) in state history.
Hailed as “the father of Texas water law,” Pope served longer than any Texas Supreme Court justice, authoring what is believed to be a record 1,032 opinions across his distinguished career.
Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht considers Pope a judicial icon. “His hard work, scholarship, common sense, humor and integrity are legendary. No Texas judge has ever been more committed to serving the rule of law and the cause of justice. He was my mentor, role model, counselor, and most especially, my friend. Texas has lost a great, great man,” Hecht said.
Pope was committed to law reform, initiating new procedures for handling grievances against attorneys, changing venue rules and promoting the Texas Rule of Judicial Education. He was responsible for helping bring computer technology to all state appellate courts, wrote the first Jury Handbook for jurors, sponsored the creation of the State Law Library, and helped draft the first Judicial Code of Conduct. In 1984, he helped implement Texas’ IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts) program, which provides free legal service in civil matters to more than 100,000 needy families a year. In 2012, Gov. Rick Perry signed the Chief Justice Jack Pope Act (HB 1445/SB 635) to honor Pope’s IOLTA work more than three decades earlier.
“He devoted his life not only to the efficient administration of justice, but also to ensuring that justice is available to all,” former Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson said. “Jack Pope will be remembered as second to none in the annals of Texas law.’
Pope is a beloved figure at Abilene Christian, where he served on the Board of Trustees from 1954-83. The interdisciplinary Jack Pope Fellows Program at ACU was established in 1989 after proceeds from a gala fundraising dinner in Austin created an endowment to teach students about public service in the classroom, allow them opportunities to attend special lectures, gain practical experience, and volunteer in community-shaping projects.
He received many honors, including the top alumni award at ACU and The University of Texas School of Law. The Texas Center for Legal Ethics, which Pope co-founded in 1989, gives an annual Chief Justice Jack Pope Professionalism Award, presented to an appellate lawyer or judge who epitomize the highest level of professionalism and integrity. In 2010 the judicial section of the State Bar of Texas presented Pope with its inaugural Judicial Lifetime Achievement Award. On April 18, 2013, Pope was honored by the Texas House of Representatives with a ceremony at the capitol recognizing his 100th birthday, including the passing of a resolution in his honor.
He was preceded in death by his parents, A.J. and Ruth Taylor Pope; and his wife of 66 years, Allene.
Pope is survived by two sons, A.J. Pope III (’63) and his wife, Carla; and Allen Pope (’65) and his wife Karen; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Memorials may be made online to ACU’s Jack Pope Fellows (or mailed to Gift Records, ACU Box 29132, Abilene, Texas 79699-9132). The Summer-Fall issue of ACU Today magazine will have more coverage of Pope’s life and influence.
— Ron Hadfield
March 3, 2017