Mississippi city lawyer retiring from nearly 6-decade career

Published 5:33 am Sunday, December 25, 2022

After nearly six decades of practicing law, a lawyer in the southwestern Mississippi city of Natchez is retiring.

Walter Brown, 83, has served as legal counsel to the city during the administration of five mayors and is set to call it quits on Dec. 31.

“It doesn’t seem that long, but it’s time,” Brown told The Natchez Democrat.

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In his 58 years of practicing law, Brown has served under five mayors — Tony Byrne, David Armstrong, Butch Brown, Hank Smith, and Philip West.

“Each was totally different in every respect,” Brown said. “All of them wanted to do something for the community. All of the aldermen and all of the mayors I’ve served with came to the point of realization that they needed to work as a team, and they did work as a team. There have been exceptions, but not many. I thought they all did a good job. Serving in public office these days is sort of like being a newspaper editor. You get a lot of criticism. Nobody tells you about the good things you do.”

While he will no longer work for clients, Brown said he would still come to his office as usual.

“I am going to read all of the books that I bought over the years. And I am going to enjoy my wife and family,” he said of plans for his time off.

“Natchez is such a special city. People say, ‘You don’t have any hobbies,’ and I say, ‘I do. Natchez is my hobby.’ That’s enough hobby to take care of all my time,” Brown said.

Newcomers to Natchez quickly become a part of the community, he noted.

“Look at Dan Gibson. He is so enthusiastic. Here is a guy who was the mayor of Crystal Springs who comes to Natchez and falls in love with it. People come to this town because there is something magical about the name Natchez. Savannah, Charleston, New Orleans, Natchez. Natchez has attributes of those great cities of the south,” Brown said.

“I love to take guests to Texada and tell them, ‘This is where the territorial legislature met, and it was also a bar. Here is where we raised the first flag,” he continued. “When new people come into the community, immediately they are part of the community. Not only do they usually bring some good financial backing, but they also get right into Natchez.”

Brown is a Natchez native. At 17, he joined the U.S. Naval Reserve.

“Joining the military was the best thing I ever did,” he said. “Back then, and even now, anybody who thinks life is going to be what it’s like in college … well, it’s not. I’m an advocate for some kind of public service after high school, if not the military, some kind of public service.”

After stints in England, Norway and the Caribbean, he returned home. He spent a year at the University of Southern Mississippi before deciding to study law at Ole Miss. He later opened a solo law practice in Natchez before running for the Legislature in 1967.
“I served 12 years and realized I needed to come home and make a living,” Brown said.

Most of Brown’s work has been governmental in nature.

“This comes from your dad being a supervisor (with Adams County) and going to Washington and being in the Legislature and meeting lawyers and other people from around the state. You end up in the public policy and administration side of law practice.

“I suspect at least half my law practice has been serving as counsel for boards, such as serving as the city attorney for 25 years (and) the hospital for about the same time,” he said. “You are on the inside. While you are counsel for the board, board members look to their legal counsel for not only what the law is but also they want to know what you think about this policy or that policy. Without getting totally involved in it, you become a listening point for aldermen, and you become a mediator between different viewpoints. That has been particularly true of the city.”