By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – If it weren’t for a lost bail of cotton, four generations of Horans might not have gone into the legal profession.
In 1917, John Horan took a bail of cotton to the gin at Taylor and they lost it. “It was the only bail he made that year and they claimed they lost it and wouldn’t pay him,” said his son, long-time local attorney Ben Horan.
After the gin lost his cotton, John Horan took a correspondence course from La Salle Extension University in Chicago and began his law practice. He filed suit against the gin and they had to pay him for the bail.
“It’s called a bailment, Horan said. “That’s when you take someone else’s property you become responsible for it.”
Horan told the story as he packed boxes at his office on Main Street in preparation for closing his firm March 1 after half a century. “Fifty years is a long time,” he said.
Horan went into practice with his father in January 1959 after graduating from law school at Ole Miss. The two were pictured on the front page of the February 19, 1959, issue of the Herald. Horan was described as Water Valley’s youngest attorney. He had just turned 30.
Their office was upstairs over The Mechanics Savings Bank on Main Street. It was one of several Horan would occupy in Water Valley before settling into his last at 420 North Main for the past ten years.
Horan described his life’s work as the general practice of law, “Whatever came in the door.”
Many of his cases were domestic relations. “I don’t know how many divorces I’ve gotten in the past 50 years,” he said. “I didn’t keep count and I never enjoyed one of them.”
Horan described a divorce case from the time people were beginning to apply for social security benefits. “This old fellow came to me wanting a divorce from a woman who had left him.”
“He had charged his wife with deserting him,” Horan said. “He had a woman as his witness. I asked him, ‘do you know this woman here.’”
He responded that he did know her, Horan added. He had been living with her twenty years.
“Judge (Kermit) Cofer said, ‘You’re going to have to find another witness Mr. Horan.’ So I got another witness and we went back to court and got him a divorce.”
Horan explained, “He wanted to get a divorce from his first wife so he could marry this one and get his social security straightened out, I guess.”
Horan and his wife of 56 years, Lilly Loyce, have six children: Kim Bruner, a retired school teacher; Michael, an attorney; Brennan, an attorney; Clay, who is in investments; Kevin, an attorney; and Sean, a banker.
The couple was married April 28, 1952, while he was stationed at Donnelson Air Force Base near Greenville, South Carolina. “We had a bunch of children after that and 17 grandchildren,” he said. There are also three great-grandchildren.
Along with the three sons who are lawyers, Michael’s daughter, Heather Miller is an Atlanta attorney and the fourth generation to take up the profession.
When asked what he planed to do after he retires March 1, Horan responded with a grin, “Go to work.”
“I’ll find something to do,” he added. “I’ve got four acres to take care of.”