Marice Richter Special to the Business Press
John Allen Chalk continues to amaze his colleagues and associates with his passion, his energy and his enthusiasm for practicing law. At age 76, Chalk is the first to arrive each morning at the downtown Fort Worth offices of Whitaker, Chalk, Swindle & Schwartz and is typically the last to leave. “He is just amazing,” said his law partner, Wayne Whitaker. “He is up here all the time – late into the evenings and on weekends.” But dedication isn’t the only characteristic that those who know him best admire about Chalk. “He is a man of integrity with a sharp mind, strong work ethic and great sense of humor,” Whitaker said. “He’s as fine a human being as anyone will ever meet.” So it’s no surprise that Chalk’s colleagues, friends and family are celebrating his selection as this year’s recipient of the Blackstone Award from the Tarrant County Bar Association. The highest honor presented to a local lawyer each year, the award recognizes consistent ability, integrity, courage and longevity. “The fact that this award is peer recognition makes it really special,” Chalk said. “It is truly a big honor.” Chalk said the award confirms that the decision he made years ago to switch careers and become a lawyer was the right one. Chalk’s first calling was to the ministry. He moved to Texas from Tennessee in 1966 to work as a radio preacher at the Church of Christ in Abilene. He immediately fell in love with Texas. “I wasn’t born here but I got here as quick as I could,” he likes to say. But Chalk also discovered that his views weren’t quite in sync with those of the church, particularly on issues such as civil rights and women’s rights, he said. So Chalk took the bold step of leaving the ministry and going to law school, although he had a wife, Sue, and two young children, John Allen Jr. and Mary Beth. “I know a lot of lawyers who get burned out and decide to become ministers,” he said. “But it’s very unusual for ministers to become lawyers.” Chalk worked hard and finished law school at the University of Texas in 27 months instead of the customary three years. He returned to Abilene and went to work as chief counsel for an independent petroleum refining and marketing company. When the company shut its doors in 1984, Chalk worked briefly as general counsel for a real estate developer, which took him to Dallas. A real estate slump at the time sent him back to private practice and brought him to Fort Worth. “I knew John Michener and a few other lawyers in the Gandy Michener law firm at the time and persuaded the firm to allow me to join them in June 1986,” he said He continues to practice with the same firm, although it has a different name and he is now a partner. Chalk’s specialty is business and commercial litigation, including a lot of arbitration and mediation. Nearly 30 years later, Chalk said, there is no other place he would rather call home. “My wife, Sue, and I really love Fort Worth,” he said. “It is so welcoming.” Equally supportive is the legal community, which provides continuing education, encouragement and mentorship opportunities to lawyers, he said. “It is a caring, supportive, gracious, open legal community,” he said. That’s why receiving the Blackstone Award was so special to him. The recipient is chosen by a committee of nine Tarrant County Bar Association members with various levels of professional experience. The committee operates secretly so no one knows who was part of the selection process. “It is a secret committee to keep politics and lobbying out of it,” said Ben Barlow, immediate past president of the Tarrant County Bar Association. “It is an award that truly recognizes work ethic, character and integrity.” The award has been presented annually since 1963 and in a few rare cases has been presented to two lawyers in a single year. The award also recognizes longevity, so recipients must be at least 65 and must have practiced in Tarrant County for at least 15 years, including the five years preceding the award. Barlow said he had the honor of informing Chalk that he had been selected. “He was overwhelmed, grateful and very honored,” Barlow said. As a past president of the bar association, Chalk knew what it was like to inform a recipient, having broken the news to Allan Howeth in 2009. Yet, when he was informed, Chalk said, he was surprised and stunned. Barlow said he was extremely impressed with the programs celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Texas Lawyer’s Creed that Chalk presented during his year as bar association president. The creed focuses on professionalism for lawyers. “He has such energy and drive,” Barlow said. “He was really a great leader of the bar association.” Chalk received the award at the Law Day Dinner in May. His son, John Allen Chalk Jr. – a lawyer, certified public accountant, former partner in the Whitaker Chalk law firm and a bar association member – presented the award to his father. Chalk remains active in the bar association and serves in key leadership roles.