Papa – Judge William Pannill, my grandfather for whom I am named — was our patriarch. He was self-educated and self-made. He was born in Chatfield, Texas, in 1876. His own father, Dr. William Pannill, had been born in Virginia in 1850 and emigrated to Texas as a teenager during the Civil War. But Dr. Pannill was apparently not able to educate his first-born son at a university, so Papa graduated from high school and worked in the post office. He read law in Corsicana at night. That was the accepted method of becoming a lawyer in the 19th century. He met and married Mattie Cherry after seeing her in a buckboard driven by her father, William C. Cherry, a veteran of the Army of Northern Virginia. Papa said she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
Papa bought the house at 2221 Lipscomb Street in Fort Worth when he moved the family from Stephenville in 1927. The house was about 15 years old then, because it turns out a ceiling fan on the sleeping porch (which I kept when we closed the house) had been manufactured in 1911.
When I was born, Papa and Mattie, our grandmother, were living in Houston. Throughout the 1930s, Papa had represented a number of oil companies in land litigation throughout Texas. Arguments over land ownership broke out around the state as oil exploration intensified. Legal briefs Papa signed in many of those cases have come down to me. The Ohio was one of his main clients.
I never heard why Papa went to work for The Ohio. So far as I know, he had never been anyone’s employee (other than in elected office). When he and Mattie moved to Houston, he would have been in his early 60s and perhaps not eager to keep on trying large cases. At any rate, he became general counsel of The Ohio in Houston.
There were few jobs for lawyers in the Depression of the Thirties. So Papa hired Dad out of law school into the legal department of The Ohio Oil Company. Dad had been an excellent law student at the University of Texas. He served as one of the student editors of the Texas Law Review under the leadership of his lifelong friend Roy Bennett, who was editor-in-chief.
The Ohio seemingly had no rules against nepotism. Papa also hired his eldest son, William, as his secretary, and his son-in-law Judge John L. Camp as a company lawyer. Uncle Johnny had married Martha Pannill Camp (our Aunt Littly) and served as county judge in Abilene, Taylor County, where Johnnie had played football as “Bullet Camp” for the Hardin-Simmons Bulldogs. Littly and Johnny had one child, a teenaged son named John Pannill Camp.
Papa and Mattie moved into rented quarters at 3904 Brandt Street in Houston, a two-story Greek Revival house now at the origination of the Southwest Freeway on Spur 527. The 1940 census (released in 2012) lists them and gives Papa’s income as $5,000 a year. (That would have been a salary of $81,967.21 in 2012). We lived nearby in a rented apartment at 2419 Woodhead. Later Mother and Dad bought the house at 2223 Colquitt, near Greenbriar — with Mattie’s help. Mother said Mattie paid the down payment because she didn’t want the couple living with their baby on the second floor of an apartment building.
A couple of years later, we moved to Marshall, Illinois, where my brother Fitz was born. Mother returned with us to Fort Worth in 1943 when Dad entered officer candidate school in the Navy at Tucson. In 1944, Dad volunteered for the Naval Armed Guard, which placed gun crews on oil tankers, out of California. Then we moved into to navy family quarters. The first was a Quonset hut at Defense Village in Coronado, Calif. Then we moved to Long Beach, Calif. Finally, we moved back to Houston at the end of World War II in August 1945, and I entered kindergarten at Poe School. The Navy stationed Dad in New Orleans to separate sailors from the service. Dad returned to Houston in 1946 as a civilian lawyer with the firm of Price, Smallwood &Wheat. He moved the family out to Midland in 1948 to join the legal staff of the Amerada Petroleum Company.
During all these wanderings, Papa and Mattie were the point of reference for my brother and me. They drove over to visit us, they took us home to spend the night, we lived around the corner from them in Fort Worth, and for a time we lived with them. When my infant brother David died in 1944 at the age of three days, Dad was on shipboard in the Pacific and not reachable. It was Papa who bought David’s coffin and arranged for his burial.