Jack Montgomery is taking in his shingle. After 53 years as an attorney, he’s retiring from private practice and turning in his keys to the office as an assistant Bossier-Webster district attorney.
“In Ecclesiastes, Solomon says to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose. Well, it’s the appropriate time for me to step aside,” Montgomery said.
Retirement isn’t going to be easy, the Springhill native said.
“It’s going to be hard. I’ve never sat on the bench in anything. I played athletics beginning in the ninth grade and was a starter in the ninth grade,” he remembered. “I went to Tulane and started on the team as soon as you were eligible to do so in those days. Not being in on the action, so to speak, will be a new experience.”
John Willard “Jack” Montgomery Sr. has amassed an impressive record of success, both as an athlete and in the public arena. In high school, he was a two-way starter at end on Springhill’s 1952 state championship football team and a forward on the Lumberjacks’ 1953 basketball team which also won the state crown.
“I guess it was a family tradition,” Montgomery said. “My father’s team at Bastrop won the state football championship in 1927 and my son, John, was on Minden’s state championship team in ’82.”
Montgomery grew up in the Pine Hills subdivision in Springhill, a neighborhood of mostly low-income families.
“You could throw a rock and hit the smoke stack of the paper mill,” he remembered. “We had to change the screens on the windows every couple of years because that stuff coming from the mill would eat through the metal.”
Like many kids who grow up in small town neighborhoods, Montgomery made friendships that have lasted a lifetime. Two of those individuals have influenced his life in big ways.
Next door lived a fellow athlete who would join Montgomery on Springhill’s outstanding teams of the 50s. John David Crow would win the Heisman Trophy in 1957 at Texas A&M and then enjoy a 10-year professional career with the Chicago/St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers.
“John David and I are still very close,” Montgomery said. “When ESPN did the movie on him it was a privilege to be asked to be a part of the segment on his early years.”
A couple of houses down from his family lived the person with whom Montgomery would share what he considers the most treasured years of his life. He remembers the year Carolyn Tucker, the girl he would marry in 1958, was born.
“I watched her grow up,” he said with a smile. “I loved her before she knew I was alive.”
After graduating from Springhill High School, Montgomery attended Tulane University on an athletic scholarship. He was a three-year, two-way starter on the football team that, at the time, was a member of the Southeastern Conference.
“I had other offers to play football, but I wanted to stay in the state and I didn’t want to go to LSU,” he said with a laugh.
His second year as a starter, Tulane beat Navy, Auburn and Ole Miss in a three-week stretch and was ranked among the nation’s top 10 teams. During his senior year, Montgomery was elected captain of the team. He also was named deputy wing commander of Tulane’s Air Force ROTC.
Montgomery had planned to be an Air Force pilot, but things in the military changed and so did his career path. After graduating from Tulane in 1958, he found himself facing a tough choice.
“I changed my mind when the Air Force increased the contract from three to five years and I didn’t want to go for five years,” he said. “I didn’t have the sciences to go to medical school, so I took the LSU law school test, did well and enrolled.”
He entered law school in 1958 and graduated in 1962. During that time, he and Carolyn were married and she attended LSU while Montgomery completed his juris doctorate.
“I stayed a little while longer while my wife went to school because I wanted to be with her,” he said.
Immediately after he graduated law school, Montgomery joined the Air Force and spent three years in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. When his tour of duty ended, he returned to his hometown and entered private practice with Roy Fish.
He still remembers his first case, a product liability case involving Ford automotive company.
“The judge in the case made the statement that Ford Motor Company was no more negligent than is the mother of the son that raised him with no better sense than to buy a Ford car,” Montgomery said, smiling at the memory. “Needless to say, we lost. And I don’t think I ever took another product liability case.”
Montgomery had been steadily building his private practice when another career opportunity presented itself. Some individuals seeking a candidate to run for the state senate asked him to consider challenging the district’s incumbent.
“Of course I said yes. I’m a natural born politician. I politicked my momma and daddy, sisters, brother … I like people and I enjoy it,” he said.
In what was considered a stunning win, Montgomery took the senate seat which included Bossier, Webster, Bienville and Claiborne parishes with 55 percent of the vote in a runoff. He was 31 years old, and found himself dealing with some of the most powerful men in the state. At the top of the list was Gov. John McKeithen.
“Gov. McKeithen liked me and he let me do a lot of things as a young senator,” Montgomery recalled.
“He put me with men like ‘Dutch’ Morial and Bubba Henry and we rewrote the state’s worker compensation laws.”
Montgomery served one term in the senate, losing his reelection bid in 1972 to the man he had defeated previously. Undeterred, he returned to his law practice which he moved to Minden.
“I moved the practice to Minden because I could see the handwriting on the wall,” he said. “Minden had a more diverse economy. It wasn’t dependent on one thing like a paper mill. From day one, the practice in Minden was successful.”
As he worked to grow his practice, he and Carolyn raised three children. John Jr. is an attorney in the Richmond, Virginia area; Elizabeth is a business owner who lives in Minden; Rebecca lives with her husband in Longview, Texas.
Over the years, he has made friends who he credits with “helping me with whatever measure of success I have attained.”
“James Madden and I have engaged in a lot of endeavors and I look forward to more. Dr. Gary Daniel and Dr. McIntyre Bridges were very good friends and business associates,” he said. “We got together and enjoyed some successes.”
“And Pearce Jamieson got me involved when we purchased the hospital. He also had a vision for the banking industry in Minden before anyone else,” Montgomery added. “I also thank Schuyler Marvin for giving me the opportunity to finish my career in a dignified fashion.”
The 78-year-old Montgomery said his career experiences have taught him that things happen for a purpose. A person should also understand the importance of giving credit where it’s due.
“Everything I have and the successes I have had are gifts from God,” he said. “I have achieved nothing on my own.”