Judge Thomas M. Reavley Papers
Scope and Contents
The Judge Thomas M. Reavley Papers detail his extensive civic and legal service to society. Reavley’s correspondence, scholarship and speeches document not only his career and community engagement, but also provide glimpses of his education, family, World War II experience. The collection contains a wide range of formats and mediums—awards and plaques, books, calendars, commemorative medals, compact discs, ink and pencil correspondence, framed materials, mimeograph paper, newsprint, and photographic prints. Researchers interested in the Bicentennial, citizenship, Civil Rights, criminal justice, East Texas, equal opportunity housing, ethics, loan-sharking (usury), oration and speaking style, order and community, philosophy, religion, the role of the judiciary, the rule of law, sociology, Texas politics, theology, or youth education may find this collection useful.
The most prevalent item in Judge Reavley’s papers is his speeches and speech notes. This collection has many sermons and speeches about religion and faith as they apply to human nature, politics, the law, and society. Judge Reavley often explored the abstract and practical nature of legal topics such as the rule of law, morality and ethics, and the role of the judiciary in his speeches. He spoke on Texas improvement, showing a deep concern for the pace of the state’s "progress" in racial affairs, economy and industry, and politics. Judge Reavley also gave numerous commencement and career day addresses, talked about parenting, and encouraged scouting.
There are several folders in Judge Reavley’s papers that researchers might find of particular interest:
1. Senator John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism was a major campaign issue in the 1960 Presidential Race. Reavley was a volunteer in Austin and wrote a memo suggesting that Kennedy quell fears about his religion with a 15 minute question and answer to the Houston Ministerial Association. Kennedy’s campaign handlers latched on to Reavley’s idea and used it when the Senator came to Texas a few weeks before the national election. The folder contains the correspondence between Reavley and various people on Kennedy’s campaign staff. (Box 6, Folder 44)
2. Judge Reavley was a delegate at the 1968 “Uniting” Conference that merged the Methodist and United Brethren Churches. He wrote the “Rule of Law and the Right of Dissent,” popularly called the “Reavley Amendment,” which denied civil disobedience as a Christian right in the Methodist Church. This collection features correspondence, notes and press coverage documenting Judge Reavley’s contributions at the conference. (Press, Box 6, Folder 29; Correspondence, Box 7, Folders 22-23; Notes, Box 10, Folder 28).
- Event: Donated 7/17/2012
Language of Materials
The collection is in English.
Conditions Governing Access
Open for research.
Biographical or Historical Information
Thomas Morrow Reavley was born June 21, 1921 at his grandmother’s home in Quitman, Wood County, Texas. Reavley passed away December 1, 2020 in Houston. He is the son of Thomas Mark Reavley (7/26/1893-5/19/1986) and Matty Oneada Morrow (b. 9/1/1895), who resided in nearby Alba, TX at the time. Reavley was the second of four children in the family, but only him and his sister Ruth (12/7/1928-2/5/2003) lived to adulthood. Older sister Margaret died as a newborn after only 18 days of life (12/28/1919-1/16/1920), while younger sister Mary Corynn (5/8/1923-2/18/1928) died at four and a half from the measles.
The family did not remain in Alba long after young Thomas Reavley’s birth. His father found out about the opening of Stephen F. Austin State Teachers College in 1923 and packed everyone up for Nacogdoches. Reavley’s father built a multi-dimensional business there, owning rental cars and cotton trucks, as well as gravel trucks contracted to build new roads to the county’s prospering oil fields. Bad luck, combined with the Great Depression, saw the business fail by 1931 however. Reavley’s parents were resourceful, so with a few stools, tables and loaned utensils, they started Reavley’s Lunch Room. It was on East Main Street between Mound Street and Church Street, next to Schluter’s Studio and Bailey’s Grocery Store. Reavley held his first job at the diner, waiting tables and later manning the ice cream counter. The success of the restaurant fed the family and paid the bills through the Depression. Reavley’s father sold the Lunch Room in 1943 for $5,000 and started a potato chip company at 512 Mound Street that operated until 1977.
Reavley remembers an excellent childhood. His parents enrolled him at Mrs. Marshall’s private school for the first and second grades (he skipped grade three). At home, Reavley alternately played Tarzan in the backyard tree, shot hoops, or hit the punching bag his father erected for him. Across the street, Tom would play baseball and touch football in the field by the school with friends like Adlai Mast, James Campbell and James Davis. They also played marbles, for keeps. Reavley started his public schooling in the fourth grade and continued in the system through high school.
Reavley went to Nacogdoches High School. He did not play any sports, but excelled as a member of the debate club. Reavley’s first experience with public speaking came in 1935 when he was just 13. The pastor at the local Methodist Church asked him to give the Sunday night sermon and Reavley spoke about the incongruity of Christianity with racism and segregation. This early speech reflected a solid grasp in some of the principles and philosophies that would shape his future—faith, morality, ethics, and law.
The later years of high school were a formative period for Reavley. His parents gave him his own room for his senior year. Reavley got the New York Times Sunday edition and five or six magazines. He had his own radio, was allowed to read anything he wished, and stayed up as late as he wanted. Life magazine ran an issue on Harvard Law School November 1, 1937 that gave Reavley the ambition to become a lawyer . His conviction to practice law was so strong that Reavley’s father bought a little piece of land in the countryside to pay for Reavley to go to Harvard. He was able to do so after he got out of the Navy at the end of World War II.
Reavley graduated high school in the summer of 1937 at the age of 15 (there were only 11 grades at that time). He enrolled at nearby Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA) in the Fall of 1937, and was very active his freshman year. Reavley played clarinet in the band, as well as a member of the Press Club, Debate Club and Wesley Student Association. He was also a founding member of the Austinites, which formed in the Spring of 1938. Reavley, or “Slats” as he was referred to in the 1939 Stone Fort yearbook, got even more involved in campus life as a sophomore (1938-1939). He served as President of the Sophomore Class, the Austinites, and the Wesley Council; associate editor of the Pine Log; and as a member of the Drama Club and the Press Club. Reavley wrote a weekly column for the newspaper, “Sez Me,” that ran 33 times between September 1938 and May 1939. He finished his time at SFA on a high note, editing the Pine Log during the summer of 1939.
In the Fall of 1939, Reavley transferred to the University of Texas at Austin (UT). He was an undergraduate student at UT from 1939 until 1941. Reavley was a member of the Tejas Club and served as both the building and meals manager for the club to cover the cost of room and board. He was also active in the Methodist Students Association. Reavley received a Bachelor of Arts in Government with a minor in international relations. He went to the University of Texas Law School for the 1941-1942 academic year, before being called up to serve in World War II. For that year Reavley was in the Phi Delta Phi international law fraternity and the Pi Sigma Alpha American Political Science Association.
Reavley enlisted in the U. S. Naval Reserve September 23, 1942 as an apprentice seaman. He entered the active service December 7, 1942. Reavley completed four months of U.S. Naval Reserve’s Midshipman’s School at Columbia University and was commissioned an ensign in the U. S. Navy March 31, 1943. After two months at the U. S. Navy’s torpedo school in Newport, Rhode Island, Reavley reported to Bath, Maine to serve on the newly built destroyer USS Cogswell (DD651) in June 1943. He served as the Torpedo Officer and an Assistant Gunnery Officer through December 1944 on the ship. Reavley was promoted to Lieutenant, Junior Grade May 1, 1944. He went on detached service at various times in 1944 to complete Pacific Fleet Gunnery and Torpedo School training courses.
Among the wartime activities of the Cogswell that occurred while Reavley was aboard were: convoying President Roosevelt on the battleship USS Iowa to North Africa for the Cairo Conference (November 1943); and from January-October 1944, aircraft carrier and cruiser task force escort and fire support for missions against Japanese targets in the Admiralty Islands (Emirau), Caroline Islands (Pohnpei, Satawan, Truk, Ulithi, Woleai, Yap), Formosa, Iwo Jima, the Marianas Islands (Guam, Pagan, Rota, Saipan, Tinian), Okinawa, Palau Islands, Papua New Guinea (Aitape, Hollandia, Tanahmerah), the Philippines (Luzon Island, Manila Bay, Mindanao Island, Visayan Islands), as well as several surface actions with elements of the Japanese Fleet. The Cogswell also encountered Japanese aircraft on a number of occasions.
In late 1944, Reavley wrote the Navy and requested service on a larger vessel. He experienced seasickness and dizziness in rough seas on the destroyer. Reavley got a temporary assignment and then service on the USS Ticonderoga (CV14) beginning in April 1945. He served six months in the Gunnery Department as Division Officer and Officer in Charge of a gun battery. Reavley was also an Education Officer and Civil Readjustment Officer on the Ticonderoga. He was promoted to Lieutenant November 1, 1945, and subsequently released from active service back into the Naval Reserve November 27, 1945.
After getting out of the Navy, Reavley weighed his options. Instead of returning to UT to finish his law degree, he decided to apply to both the Law Schools at both Harvard and Yale with an interest in studying international law. Harvard Law School accepted Reavley in 1946. He graduated in 1948 sixty-fourth in his class of 368. With a wife, young child and little money, Reavley decided to move his family back to Texas. He passed the Texas State Bar Exam in July 1948.
Reavley had put out feelers to the Dallas District Attorney’s office in early 1948 and got it in his head that they would give him a job once he passed the state bar exam. Surprised that this was not the case, he managed to convince the District Attorney Will Wilson to give him a chance to become an Assistant District Attorney. Wilson gave Reavley an assignment—48 hours to come up with a solution to Dallas’s loan-sharking problem—that he had to complete if he hoped to get the job. Reavley researched usury and learned that the State of Texas was actually looking into the same issue. He contacted the Attorney General’s office and then met with the state’s Assistant Attorney General the next day. His typed summary of this meeting got Reavley his first job out of law school.
Reavley was Assistant District Attorney in Dallas from September 1948 to August 1949. His job was to prosecute and sustain the anti-usury campaign in Dallas. This he did with great success. At some point during his tenure in Dallas, Reavley went home to Nacogdoches for a visit. While there, he met Kelly Bell and they agreed to start their own practice, Bell and Reavley, in Nacogdoches. The firm lasted from 1949 to 1951 and was located in the Hayter Building, 112 West Main Street. Reavley worked land law cases for oil companies working in the Trawick Gas Field of north Nacogdoches County. Unhappy that he was not getting any courtroom experience, Reavley campaigned and ran unopposed for Nacogdoches County Attorney in 1950. Although he only served for nine months (January-September 1951), Reavley got a taste of what it took to run for office and be a public servant.
When Reavley resigned as county attorney, he took a job as an associate at a law firm in Lufkin. Reavley had just won a big conviction in a negligent homicide case and impressed the firm (Collins, Garrison, Renfro & Zelesky) representing the defendant’s insurance company so much that they hired him. Reavley’s experience was not as positive as he had hoped, so in 1952 he left to start a practice with Joseph J. Fisher and Joe H. Tonahill in Jasper, TX. Tonahill left the firm in April 1954, but Reavley and Fisher continued on together until 1955, when Reavley unexpectedly became Secretary of State of Texas.
Reavley’s ascent into Texas politics originated with his admiration and friendship with Alan Shivers. In 1954, the U. S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education shook up the Southern States by declaring segregated schools unconstitutional. In Texas, amidst outcry for interposition and worse, Governor Allan Shivers gave a speech in which he said that whether he agreed with the U. S. Supreme Court decision or not, if that was the law, Texas would follow the law. The principle and courage of this speech inspired Reavley to call Shivers’s state campaign chairman (as he was in a race against Ralph Yarborough at the time) and volunteer to work on the campaign. Reavley and Shivers became friends and got to know each other well. It was from this relationship that Shivers asked Reavley to be Texas Secretary of State when the incumbent A. M. Muldrow resigned in October 1955.
Reavley was sworn in as Secretary of State November 1, 1955. Among his duties were to oversee the State Securities Exchange and to supervise the distribution of state business permits. He also examined state securities laws and made frequent speeches to business groups. Reavley got the most press while he was Secretary of State not for doing his job but for a speech he gave about Christianity and segregation to the Burnet Community Brotherhood in July 1956. Reavley learned from the popular outcry in the press and elsewhere just how taboo it still was for an elected official to publically talk about race in 1950s Texas.
At the end of his term in 1957, Reavley had several career opportunities offered to him. Governor Shivers suggested appointing Reavley to the Texas Supreme Court, but he declined, citing his failure to meet the state constitutional test for required legal experience. U. S. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson considered Reavley for the Washington, D. C. post of Special Counsel to the Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee, Senate Armed Services Committee in 1957, but ultimately Cyrus Vance took the post. Ultimately Reavley became a partner at Powell, Rauhut, McGinnis and Reavley in Austin. He took this job with several considerations in mind. Reavley had 4 young children by this time that could not come to Washington with him. He also knew that Florence was a very private person who would not like the limelight of a politician’s wife. Though wonderful prospective jobs, the situations were not quite right.
Reavley practiced law in Austin from 1957 to 1964. His most famous case was the 1963-1964 defense of Howard Pierson, a paranoid schizophrenic who killed his mother and father, a member of the Texas Supreme Court. It was also during this time that Reavley made another attempt for public office, running unsuccessfully for Texas Attorney General in 1962. In the aftermath of this failed election bid, it was friend John Connally who asked Reavley if he had ever considered being a judge. Reavley dismissed the notion at that time and went back to his law practice, but when now Texas Governor John Connally asked Reavley two years later, he assented. Connally appointed Reavley the first district judge of the newly created 167th Judicial District in Austin. Reavley presided in this position from 1964 to 1968.
Judge Reavley was very active in the Austin community while a district judge. He was appointed chairman of the Community Council of Austin and Travis County’s Committee on Opportunity in 1964. The committee brought together many of Austin’s leading citizens—ministers, educators, the publisher of the newspaper, and president of a local labor union—to address employment inequities in the city. Later, the Community Council became a corporate entity, the Human Opportunities Corporation of Austin and Travis County, and Reavley served as chairman of its housing committee. The mission of the Human Opportunities Corporation was to look out for the welfare and needs of the minority and indigent populations of East Austin. Reavley was also on the advisory boards of the Texas Committee for Public Education and the committee to revise the state penal code.
In June 1968, Governor John Connally appointed Reavley to the Texas Supreme Court to complete the remainder of retiring Associate Justice James R. Norvell’s term. It was an election year, so Reavley had to run a campaign to remain on the Court. He defeated James Denton in the hotly contested Democratic primary and then ran unopposed in the November 1968 election. Reavley was re-elected to the Court in 1974. One of the aspects of the Supreme Court that Judge Reavley enjoyed the most was that he, and not a law clerk, could write all his own opinions. Reavley could give each case its due diligence and carefully craft his thoughts. In all, he wrote 92 opinions for the Texas Supreme Court.
Judge Reavley resigned from the Supreme Court in October 5, 1977 to teach and go back into private practice. He took a position with Scott & Douglas in Austin from 1977 to 1979, which afforded him the privilege to practice law with his eldest son Thomas, who also worked for the law firm. In 1978, he was a Special Judge for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Reavley also contemplated becoming President of the Southwestern Legal Foundation in Dallas between 1978 and 1979.
Instead of taking this job or staying at Scott and Douglas, Reavley ultimately ended up back in the courtroom as a judge on the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. President Jimmy Carter nominated him on May 17, 1979 and the Senate confirmed Reavley’s appointment July 12, 1979. Reavley worked hard on the Circuit Court, giving his opinions on thousands of cases. While on the court, Judge Reavley served as a member on a number of committees for the Judicial Conference of the United States, including: the Court Administration Committee (1984-1987), the Federal State Jurisdiction Committee (1987-1989, Chair 1990-1992), the Ad Hoc Committee on Asbestos Litigation (Chair, 1990-1991), the Committee on Gender-Based Legislation (1991-1992), and the International Judicial Relations Committee (1993-1996). It was also during his time on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that Judge Reavley got a Master of Laws degree from the University of Virginia School of Law (1982-1983). Although he assumed senior status on the Circuit Court in 1990, Judge Reavley remains an active senior judge to the present day. One of the advantages of senior status is that Judge Reavley can select the cases on which he wishes to work and sit on other U. S. Circuit Courts besides the Fifth. To date, the only Circuit Court Judge Reavley has not made a ruling with is the Fourth Circuit Court.
There are a dozen or so cases from Judge Reavley’s time on the U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary (2011) identifies as notable or important. They are: Vargas v. Strake (1983), Ochoa v. Employers National Insurance Co. (1984, 1985), James v. United States (1985), Penry v. Lynaugh (1987), Christophersen v. Allied-Signal Corp. (1990), Woodall v. El Paso (1992), United States v. Smith (1992), and Frazar v. Gilbert (2002) .
One thing that is remarkable about Judge Reavley is that beyond his professional accomplishments, he has a voluminous record of service. In the legal community, he was President of the State of Texas Junior Bar Association in 1952 and then, later, President of the Texas Judicial Council from 1971 until 1976. He is a 33rd degree Mason with Milam Lodge #2 in Nacogdoches. As an educator, Judge Reavley has held numerous temporary and full-time academic appointments. He has been a Lecturer at McMurray College (1974) and Baylor University Law School (1976-1994); an Adjunct Professor at Stephen F. Austin State University (Spring 1950) and the University of Texas, School of Law (1958-1959, 1978-1979, 1989-1997), a Visiting Professor of Law at Pepperdine University (Fall 1990) and South Texas College of Law (Spring 2006); and the M. D. Anderson Professor at Texas Tech University School of Law (1998). Reavley’s commitment to education also extends beyond the classroom. He was a trustee or board member for Huston-Tillotson College (1965-1978), Southwestern University, Pepperdine Law School, the James Dick Foundation (1976-1979), the University of Texas Nursing Board (1978), and the Brackenridge Hospital Board (1978-1979). There are scholarship funds in his name at the Harvard and Pepperdine Law Schools. A wing at Stephen F. Austin State University’s Cole Art Center bears the name of Reavley’s first wife, Florence Wilson Reavley.
The United Methodist Church is another beneficiary of Judge selflessness. He became a board member of Methodist Home in circa 1966, a member of the Executive Committee in 1970, and the President from 1978 to 1981. With the Southwest Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, Judge Reavley rose from a District Lay-Leader to Conference Chancellor. He maintained this leadership role for 20 years (1972-1992). Reavley was a member of the Theological Study Commission of the United Methodist Church from 1968 to 1972. He was the Southwest Texas Conference Delegate for six General and Jurisdictional Conferences (1956, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980). Notably, Reavley was on the General Board of Christian Social Concerns at the 1968 “Uniting” Conference that merged the Methodist and United Brethren Churches. Reavley’s speech “Rule of Law and the Right of Dissent” denied civil disobedience as a Christian right in the Methodist Church and generated much acclaim. At the local level, he was a frequent lay-speaker and Sunday school teacher across the state of Texas for many years. Nationally, the United Methodist Church selected Judge Reavley as one of two lay delegates to a represent it at the British Methodist church’s 1973 annual meeting at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.
Judge Reavley’s dedicated service to others has not gone unnoticed and several institutions have made special recognition of his distinguished career. He has honorary law degrees from Austin College (1974), Southwestern College (1977), Texas Wesleyan College (1982), and Pepperdine University (1993). Reavley also received the Austin Chapter of the Texas Social Welfare Association’s Man-of-the-Year Award (1965), was made an American Bar Foundation Fellow (1971), Stephen F. Austin State University’s Distinguished Alumnus Award (1979), the 1991 Outstanding Jurist Award from the Texas Bar Foundation; Rosewood Gavel Award, St. Mary’s University School of Law (1985), and the Chief Justice Jack Pope Professionalism Award, Texas Center for Legal Ethics (2010).
In his personal life, Thomas M. Reavley has had two wives, and has four children, four grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. His first wife was Florence Montgomery Wilson. She was born in Nacogdoches, the daughter of Ben T. Wilson, and knew Reavley through high school. Florence was an amazing artist—able to draw, paint or sculpt almost anything. Although they did not go on their first date until July 4, 1942, they were engaged within a week after that. They were married July 24, 1943 at the Trinity Episcopal Church, Copley Square, Boston, Massachusetts. The couple’s oldest child is Thomas Wilson Reavley (1/24/1947-Present). He became a lawyer and notably clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thomas C. Clark (1972-1973). Thomas Wilson Reavley and his wife Maria have two kids and two grandchildren. The eldest daughter is Marian, who is an occupational therapist in Bellingham, Washington. She is married and has one child and grandchild. Judge Reavley’s youngest son is Paul. He is married, has one son, lives in Bellingham, and works in informational technology doing green home design. The youngest child in Judge Reavley’s family is Margaret (2/2/1954-Present). She is married and has a bikram yoga studio in Bellingham. The Reavley’s other daughter was lost in childbirth.
Florence had health issues beginning in the early 1980s. In 1996, she and Thomas decided to move from Austin to Bellingham to be closer to their children. Florence Wilson Reavley passed in November 2003. On her deathbed, she planned for her husband’s future, telling him, “I’ve decided I want you to merge with Carolyn King….When I’m gone, I want you to marry Carolyn.”
Carolyn Dineen King was born January 30, 1938 in Syracuse, New York. She graduated from Yale Law School in 1962 and worked as an attorney in Houston from 1962 to 1979. Reavley first met her in 1979 at the Judiciary Committee of the U. S. Senate during their confirmation hearings to become judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. As colleagues for many years, King and Reavley developed a steadfast friendship. When Reavley followed through on Florence’s request and proposed to Carolyn, she accepted. They were married in 2004. Mrs. King has three children and a grandchild from a previous marriage .
 “At Harvard Law School the Work is Hard But the Rewards Are High.” Life, 1 November 1937, pp.42-49. [See the GoogleBooks link on Et Seq., The Harvard Law School Library Blog. Hyperlink posted by David Warrington, 26 April 2010. Online at http://etseq.law.harvard.edu/2010/04/852_rare_life_at_hls/ (Accessed 18 August 2013)].
 Almanac of the Federal Judiciary. Volume 2. 2011. Aspen Publishers, pp.30-32. [Accessed 18 August 2013 from GoogleBooks].
 “Hearing Her Story: Reflections of Women Judges.” Pepperdine University School of Law. Online at http://law.pepperdine.edu/news-events/events/hearing-her-story/conversationalists/king.htm (Accessed 19 August 2013).
Last Updated August 20, 2013Note written by Kyle Ainsworth
26.00 Cubic Feet
The Judge Thomas M. Reavley Papers are organized into 14 series and contained in 17 boxes and one bundle. There was not an original order to the whole collection, but several sections of the donated materials showed some level of organization. These parts of the collection were kept intact as best as possible. One example of this was Judge Reavley’s “Great Souls” box. These were close friends and individuals that the judge admired and respected. There are “Great Souls” sub-series in the Speeches, Correspondence and Research series.
The subject variety, date range and sheer number of journal, magazine and newspaper articles in Judge Reavley’s donation was large. The processing archivist decided that it would be best to retain only those articles annotated by the judge, publications evaluated to be unique (mostly full and partial newspaper issues), and clipping without the bibliographic information to satisfactorily identify them. The rest of the material was indexed in a bibliography (49 pages) and discarded from the collection. What’s left makes up the series of folders titled Research Notes were separated from Research because they pertained much more to Judge Reavley’s own thinking and writing on the folder subjects.
1. Speeches (21 sub-Series, 519 folders).
2. Scholarship (3 sub-series, 40 folders).
3. Press and Recognition (2 sub-series, 36 folders).
4. Correspondence (8 sub-series, 117 folders).
5. Research (2 sub-series, 47 folders).
6. Notes (5 sub-series, 47 folders).
7. Political and Judicial Materials (2 sub-series, 17 folders).
8. Photographs (22 folders).
9. Biographical Materials (3 sub-series, 18 folders).
10. Calendars (5 folders).
11. Miscellaneous (10 folders).
12. Books (27 items).
13. Commemorative Objects (12 items).
14. Oversize Materials (6 folders, 44 items).
Bundle (1 item).
Media Cabinet (6 items).
Method of Acquisition
Source of Acquisition
Thomas M. Reavley
- Guide to the Judge Thomas M. Reavley Papers
- Kyle Ainsworth
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script