IN REMEMBRANCE: 12-27-2015

  • William Guest, a member of Gladys Knight and the Pips from 1953 to 1989, died on Thursday in Detroit. He was 74.
Mr. Guest’s sister-in-law, Dhyana Ziegler, said the cause was congestive heart failure.
Mr. Guest, who was Ms. Knight’s cousin, began singing with her when they were both children. His background vocals were heard on records like “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” a Top 10 hit for the group in 1967, and “Midnight Train to Georgia,” which reached No. 1 shortly after the group left Motown Records and began recording for Buddah in 1973.
Gladys Knight and the Pips won three Grammy Awards and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Apollo Hall of Fame in 2006.
After the group broke up in 1989, Mr. Guest and another former member, Edward Patten, formed a production company. Mr. Patten died in 2005.
Mr. Guest was later the chief executive of Crew Records. He published his autobiography, “Midnight Train From Georgia: A Pip’s Journey,” written with Ms. Ziegler, in 2013.

Joe Jamail in his Houston office in 2002. Credit F. Carter Smith

  • Joe Jamail, a celebrated Texas lawyer who had flunked civil negligence in law school and barely passed the bar exam but went on to dazzle his profession by winning gargantuan judgments — including Pennzoil’s $10.5 billion award against Texaco in 1985, then the largest in history — died on Wednesday in Houston. He was 90.
The University of Texas, where he was a major benefactor, confirmed his death on its website.
Mr. Jamail’s specialty was personal injury cases — people hurt in accidents or by commercial products — and over five decades he won more than 500 lawsuits and $13 billion in judgments and settlements for his clients. The defendants were mostly insurance companies and, in cases of product liability, corporations like Firestone Tire & Rubber, General Motors, Eli Lilly, RCA and Remington Arms.
Audacious, unpredictable, a theatrical courtroom rogue, Mr. Jamail won the hearts and minds of juries with down-home straight talk in a barroom drawl that turned boring contracts and soporific legal jargon into simple, dramatic morality plays, with casts of victims (his clients) and villains (the other guys).

From left, Harry Reasoner, Joe Jamail and Darrell Royal at the University of Texas in 2003. Credit Rodolfo Gonzalez/American-Statesman

“People who want to be derogatory call it ‘whoopin’ and ‘hollerin,’ but Joe just has great rapport with juries,” said G. Irvin Terrell, a lawyer who was Pennzoil’s regular outside counsel and worked with Mr. Jamail on the Texaco case. The judgment they won was five times as great as any previous award.
The case, in which Pennzoil accused Texaco of improperly interfering with its 1984 deal to buy part of Getty Oil, was Mr. Jamail’s first on behalf of a major corporate client, and it elevated him overnight from the lone star of Texas courtrooms to near-mythical status in American jurisprudence. But if the size of the judgment, from Pennzoil’s point of view, seemed too good to be true, it indeed was.
The judgment withstood appeals, unlike many large awards, but Pennzoil received only a fraction. Texaco, whose net worth was roughly equal to the judgment, was virtually wiped out. Unable even to post a bond to cover the award during appeals, Texaco filed for bankruptcy and settled the case for $3 billion in 1987. Mr. Jamail’s fee was said to be $345 million.
Long known as the King of Torts, Mr. Jamail worked on a contingency fee basis, usually one-third of the award, and earned $10 million to $25 million a year in the decade before the Pennzoil case. In 1994 alone, he earned $90 million (about $145 million in today’s money), according to Forbes magazine, and he had amassed $1.5 billion by 2009, when Forbes ranked him 236th on its list of richest Americans.
Joseph Dahr Jamail Jr. was born on Oct. 19, 1925, to Joseph and Marie Anton Jamail. His father was a Lebanese immigrant who arrived in Houston as a boy, sold food from a cart in a farmers’ market and eventually built a chain of 28 grocery stores. The younger Joseph graduated from St. Thomas High School in Houston and attended the University of Texas at Austin for a semester before joining the Marines in 1943.
After serving in the Pacific in World War II, he returned to the university, earned a bachelor’s degree in 1950 and married the former Lillie Mae Hage, known as Lee. She died in 2007. The couple had three sons, Joseph Dahr III, Randall Hage and Robert Lee, who survive him. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available. Mr. Jamail lived in Houston.
In law school at the university, Mr. Jamail flunked his first course on torts, the field in which he would excel. Classmates recalled him as a gregarious, storytelling saloon companion and a brilliant but indifferent student. Months before receiving his law degree in 1953, he took the Texas bar exam on a $100 bet, cramming over a weekend and scoring 76, one point over the passing grade.
“I overtrained,” he said.
His first job was at Fulbright, Crooker, Freeman, Bates & Jaworski, a politically connected white-shoe law firm in Houston, whose best-known partner, Leon Jaworski, was later the special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal.
“I lasted about 20 minutes in that kind of corporate law-by-committee environment,” Mr. Jamail recalled.
He worked for a year as an assistant prosecutor in Harris County, Tex., then went into private practice. His first big splash in the papers came in what was called the Case of the Killer Tree.
In an act of hubris, he represented the widow of a drunken driver fatally injured when his car jumped a curb and hit a tree. He persuaded a jury that the tree, on a traffic island in the middle of a street, had been planted in the wrong place by the city. His client won funeral expenses and $6,000 for suffering, and the city cut down the tree.
An outstanding court performer, he would arrive without a briefcase or stacks of documents, the days of preparation memorized to preserve an illusion of simplicity.
He was a husky man with blue eyes and a potato nose, fleshy lips and a dimpled chin. The gray hair was parted vaguely on the left, and the face was florid and a bit shiny, as if he had been out all night; friends, who included Kirk Douglas, Willie Nelson and Darrell Royal, the Hall of Fame Longhorn football coach, said he often had been.
But he examined witnesses and nurtured juries with an actor’s repertoire that could be confiding, angry, cajoling, blustering — pitying the victims and indignant at the villains. It worked again and again: for the girl paralyzed in the crash of an all-terrain vehicle, for the man whose hands were burned off by an electrical box, for the baseball player blinded in one eye by a battery jumper cable.
Mr. Jamail and his wife gave millions to the University of Texas, the Texas Heart Institute, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Rice University, Baylor College of Medicine and other philanthropies.
His name is a fixture on the University of Texas campus in Austin, where a swim center, the football field, a law school pavilion and a legal library and research center have been named for him. His likeness can be found there as well: a statue at the law school and another at the football field, making him the only person with two on the university’s 350-acre campus — an honor that rankled some students and faculty members as excessive when the second one was unveiled in 2004.
Mr. Jamail lectured at colleges and universities, and was the recipient of numerous awards. His autobiography, “Lawyer: My Trials and Jubilations,” written with Mickey Herskowitz, was published in 2003.
His office in Houston had many mementos, including a glass paperweight encasing the bank-deposit slip for the $3 billion that Pennzoil had collected from Texaco.
Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

Charles F. Harris Credit The History Makers

  • Charles F. Harris, an editor and publisher who pushed commercial and academic presses to embrace black writers, explore black issues and court black readers, died on Dec. 16 in Manhattan. He was 81.
The cause was colon cancer, his son Francis said.
Mr. Harris began his career in publishing at Doubleday & Company in the mid-1950s, when black editors were rare and the prevailing notion in the book business was that, with few exceptions, writing by black authors or aimed at black readers belonged to a niche market that was at worst inconsequential and at best narrow and unprofitable. He spent much of his career defying that premise.
From the early 1970s until the mid-1980s, Mr. Harris was the chief executive of Howard University Press, the first black university press in the country, where he published about 100 books, most in the social sciences and the humanities.
He established the press’s academic bona fides with such titles as “A Poetic Equation” (1974), a book of conversations between Margaret Walker and Nikki Giovanni, black poets of different generations; “The Wayward and the Seeking: A Collection of Writing by Jean Toomer” (1980); and the American edition of “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” (1974), an analysis of the effects of Western capitalism by the Guyana-born scholar Walter Rodney. (Howard University Press, which closed in 2011, also published a revised edition of Mr. Rodney’s book in 1981.)

Charles F. Harris helped edit Amistad, a ground-breaking literary magazine. Credit Random House

In 1986, Mr. Harris ventured back into commercial publishing. He founded Amistad Press, which published a series of critical volumes on Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright and Alice Walker, among other black writers, and works by contemporary black figures including the tennis champion Arthur Ashe, the longtime Democratic congressman from Missouri William L. Clay and the editor of Essence magazine, Susan L. Taylor. Mr. Harris sold Amistad to HarperCollins in 1999 and was editorial director of the imprint until 2003.
Charles Frederick Harris was born in Portsmouth, Va., on Jan. 3, 1934, to Ambrose Harris and the former Annie Eula Lawson. The youngest of seven children, Charles continued a family tradition of delivering local newspapers. His father, a railroad man, insisted that his children read the newspapers they delivered.
Charles Harris graduated from I. C. Norcom High School in Portsmouth and Virginia State College (now Virginia State University). He joined Doubleday after serving in the Army.
In 1965, with the publication of two titles on black history — “A Glorious Age in Africa: The Story of Three Great African Empires” and “Worth Fighting For: A History of the Negro During the Civil War and Reconstruction” — Mr. Harris started Zenith Books, a Doubleday imprint for young readers. It was intended to address the lack of information about a variety of minority groups in history textbooks, and by 1969, “following the example of Doubleday’s Zenith Books,” The New York Times Book Review reported, “every major publisher has a black history or culture series of one kind or another.”
In the late 1960s, Mr. Harris moved to Random House, where, among other things, he acquired “The Greatest,” a memoir by Muhammad Ali (written with Richard Durham). He and John A. Williams edited Amistad, a book-length periodical published under Random House’s aegis (the first issue was brought out by Vintage, a paperback imprint) that was reportedly the first magazine devoted to black writing.
Two issues were published, in 1970 and 1971, including work by Addison Gayle Jr. and Langston Hughes. Some of the content was in sync with the defiant tenor of radical times, some was more circumspect.
“Its nine black contributors have launched their literary ship with vigor,” Newsweek magazine wrote of the first issue.
Mr. Harris married Sammie Jackson in 1956. In addition to her and to his son Francis, he is survived by another son, Charles Jr., and a brother, James.
In 1980, while he was at Howard University Press, Mr. Harris gave an interview to The Times Book Review in which he recalled a meeting from his early days in commercial publishing. The discussion at the meeting focused on the possibility of the house’s reprinting the work of Frederick Douglass, the onetime slave who became a fervent abolitionist and one of the 19th century’s most eloquent and persuasive orators. One editor, he recalled, argued against it because his grandmother, who counted herself an expert on 19th-century literature, had never heard of Douglass.
“You had to deal with this kind of mentality constantly,” Mr. Harris said. “It wasn’t even just the question of whether we should be reprinting a black writer, but whether a major publishing company should base its editorial policy on the contents of someone’s grandmother’s library shelves.”

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