"Superlawyer," "legend," "humanitarian," "business man," "philanthropist" -- these were the words Lamar University President James Simmons used to describe Beaumont attorney Walter Umphrey at a ceremony honoring Umphrey with an endowed scholarship in his name.
Lamar and the Beaumont Foundation of America created the Southeast Texas Legends Scholarships to assist underserved Lamar University students. On Oct. 26, the university announced that the 15th in a series of $100,000 endowed scholarships was named in honor of Umphrey, founding partner of Provost Umphrey Law Firm.
"Walter Umphrey does so many things you never hear about," Simmons said. "Hundreds of students have benefited from Walter's generosity."
Born in Port Arthur, Umphrey received a football scholarship to Southern Methodist University then completed his bachelor's in business administration degree at Baylor in 1959. Umphrey worked as an insurance adjustor before entering Baylor Law School and earning his Juris Doctorate degree in 1965.
He founded Provost Umphrey Law Firm with partner David Provost in 1969.
Umphrey is well known as co-counsel, along with Wayne A. Reaud, Chairman of the Board of the Beaumont Foundation, in the historic $17.3-billion settlement for Texas residents against the tobacco industry in 1998.
Simmons said Lamar University was able to restart its football program thanks to the generosity of Umphrey. The Provost Umphrey firm donated $3 million to rebuild the football stadium at Lamar, and Umphrey personally gave another $1 million.
"We could not have brought football back to Lamar without it," Simmons said. "The return of football has transformed this university."
Umphrey and his wife, Sheila, also gave $5 million for a recreation center at Lamar.
He has been equally as generous to his alma mater, Baylor. Umphrey helped build the new Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center on the banks of the Brazos River at Baylor University that is hailed as a state-of-the-art educational facility. Recently the couple made a generous gift that will support construction of the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Bridge at Baylor Stadium connecting the new stadium with the law school across the Brazos River.
Umphrey is board certified in the areas of Personal Injury Trial Law and Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is a Fellow of the International Society of Barristers.
In June 2000, Umphrey was recognized as one of the top Texas lawyers of the 20th century in the Texas Lawyer publication "Legal Legends: A Century of Texas Law and Lawyering." Texas Lawyer also named Umphrey as one of the 25 greatest Texas lawyers of the past quarter-century in its special 2010 anniversary issue.
Beyond the practice of law, Umphrey serves as director of the National Wildlife Association, director of the LadyBird Johnson Wildflower Center, director of both Texas Regional Bancshares Inc. and CommunityBank of Texas.
"Walter Umphrey has left an indelible mark on the judicial system on a local, state and national level," Simmons said. "He is a brilliant legal scholar who believes in doing the right thing for those that have been harmed by others."
Previous Southeast Texas Legends Endowed Scholarships honor Major T. Bell, Jack Brooks, Don Burgess, Dr. Joe Dickerson, Everett Lord, Gilbert I. "Buddy" Low, George McLaughlin, Hubert Oxford III, Carl Parker Jr., James M. Simmons, Ward Stephenson, Joe H. Tonahill, John G. Tucker and Bob Wortham.