By Cheryl Hall
The Dallas Morning News
ADDISON — August has been busy for Joe Geary. The founder of Geary, Porter & Donovan PC went before a jury in Denton County and won $309,000 for his client in a state property condemnation case.
He resolved a dispute involving a legal immigrant ranch hand and a high-interest loan company. For that case, Geary waived his $480-an-hour fee because he felt the terms of the loan were “morally unconscionable.”
And he’s knee-deep in depositions on another case that’s headed for trial later this year.
The thing is, Geary is 90 years old. He’s been practicing law in North Texas since he passed the bar 67 years ago.
“Work is the nearest thing to competitive athletics that I can do,” Geary says in his office along the Dallas North Tollway. “It keeps your mind working. You get to see a lot of different people in different circumstances. It’s still a deal where you can make a difference for poor folks. And it’s just fun.”
On a typical day, Geary shows up at the office between 8:30 and 9 and leaves at noon for lunch at Preston Trail Golf Club. If his workload allows it, he stays and plays honor-count gin, a complicated version of gin rummy.
“I play for fun and to challenge myself mentally,” he says. “It makes you think competitively, just as you do in law.”
Geary’s legal career began as an assistant district attorney for Dallas County in 1947. He left the DA’s office for private practice in 1951 and was elected to the Dallas City Council in 1959.
Two years later, he was the business establishment’s mayoral candidate but was beaten by Earle Cabell. It was just as well, Geary shrugs. “I would have been mayor when Kennedy was assassinated.”
Former Dallas City Manager George Schrader met Geary in 1960. He has seen Geary operate as a legal adversary, as his comrade in zoning cases and now as his personal attorney.
“He’s a distinguished attorney — very tough, represents his clients exceedingly well,” Schrader says. “But he also has a soft spot that most people don’t get to see. He’s done things for the city that he’s not gotten recognition for.”‘The gift of gab’Mike Geary, 60, has been at his dad’s side since he started coming to work with him on Saturdays as a 7-year-old. Mike joined his father’s firm fresh out of law school 35 years ago.
“He’s got the gift of gab,” Mike says. “He’s still very good in the courtroom. I tell people I hope I’m upright at 90, much less showing up here. He’s that generation. They don’t know anything else but to work.”
Geary is a highly decorated World War II navigator who flew 50 bombing missions in the liberation of Europe.
He left Southern Methodist University when he was 18 to enlist as an aviation cadet in the Army, traveling to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls for basic training. His bus mates included Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry and Ben Love of Houston, who became one of Texas’ most prominent bankers.
Geary and his comrades missed the D-Day invasion, waiting to hitch a ride across the Atlantic aboard a USO plane.
They were miffed that their grand adventure was being delayed. But they matured in a hurry when they arrived to join the 450th Bomb Group in Italy later that summer.
“We were green as grass, not knowing anything about anything,” Geary says. “We asked the company colonel where we should put our stuff. His response turned on the light for us. ‘I can’t tell you right now. We’ll see who doesn’t come back today.’ That was the greeting. And that was the way it was.”
Geary doesn’t know how many men cycled through the 450th, but he’s read that 1,505 didn’t make it home. He and the flight crew almost made it 1,515 when they were shot down on Oct. 7, 1944.
They were flying lead in a bombing mission outside Vienna. Five of the seven airplanes were shot down before the formation reached the oil refinery and storage depot target. Their plane was hit hard but they continued on and dropped their bombs even though it had lost its instruments and most of its fuel.
The crew couldn’t bail without deserting their severely injured co-pilot.
Somehow, Geary found an airfield on an island off the coast of Yugoslavia.
“The pilot said he was going to try to take it in, but that anybody who wanted to could bail out,” Geary recalls. “We all said, ‘Hell, we all came together. We’ll stay together.’ The pilot was able to make the landing on an emergency strip. A guy named Gen. [Draža] Mihailovic got us out [of Yugoslavia]. He was [Marshal] Tito’s opposition.”
Geary’s role earned him the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal and the Knight of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest military decoration.Feeling appreciatedGeary depends on expensive hearing aids and uses a walker. But other than that, he’s still going strong.
In June, he traveled to France for D-Day and French liberation celebrations. “The high point of the trip for me was the appreciation shown us from old to young, including little schoolkids,” Geary says. “It was a very heartwarming experience.”
Shortly after he returned from France, Geary flew to New Orleans to be interviewed by the National World War II Museum for its archives.
“They wanted to hear the basic bull about how tough things were,” he says. “I kept telling them — which is the absolute truth — we had a dry bed and a hot meal if you got home. The guys walking [infantry] also got shot at, but they had rain and snow to sleep in when they got through with their day. They had it far worse than we did.”
The war taught Geary responsibility and how to assess the enemy — useful skills for the legal profession.
“That’s the key to the law business. Knowing the opposition. Knowing the hot buttons that may rattle their witness or the lawyer,” he says. “I like to agitate. My forte is cross examination.”
It also taught him how to figure out whom he could rely on in structuring his casehandling.
“There are people here that I would use in some instances but in some instances I wouldn’t because of their peculiarities as I see them. Now, my peculiarities as they see them is another matter.”
AT A GLANCE: Joe Geary
Title: Founder and chairman, Geary, Porter & Donovan PC in Addison
Born: St. Paul Hospital in Dallas, Feb. 2, 1924.
Resides: Bent Tree neighborhood
Education: North Dallas High School, 1940; bachelor of arts in pre-law and government, 1946, and law degree from Southern Methodist University, January 1948. (He passed the bar in 1947, before he graduated.)
Personal: Married for 56 years to Charlotte Geary, who died in 2005; one son and three daughters, nine grandchildren and five (soon to be six) great-grandchildren.