Tom Moore Jr., a former state representative and McLennan County district attorney who practiced law for almost 70 years, died Sunday morning.

Moore, 98, practiced law and went to work every day well into his 90s and was respected and admired by legions. He was known for his compassion for others, his wit and his keen legal mind.

Because of his amazing longevity, local judges afforded Moore, and only Moore, the right of not having to wear a tie in court.

“I have a great deal of respect for Tom’s legal ability,” 19th State District Judge Ralph Strother said just after Moore turned 91. “He has such vast experience and has lived so long and has seen so much. He is the only lawyer that practices in front of me that I don’t require to wear a tie. I am quite certain that is a privilege he has earned.”

While Moore appreciated the gesture, he was quick to point out that he never would have abused that privilege in front of a jury.

Moore was born in Waco on May 16, 1918. His great-grandfather, Thomas Moore, was a lawyer and a doctor who moved to Burnet from Kentucky before the Civil War. He later moved to Waco and was a law partner of Richard Coke, a former Texas governor and U.S. senator.

Moore’s father ran a lumberyard in Waco, and Moore worked his way through Baylor University toiling at Cameron Mill Lumber Co. Moore’s maternal grandfather, Bonham Knight, was a printer and printed the infamous Iconoclast that came from the vitriolic pen of journalist William Cowper Brann.

Knight and Brann, whose favorite targets for his columns were Baylor and Baptists, were “friends and drinking buddies,” Moore said in a Tribune-Herald interview in 2009.

“One night, a group of Baptist supporters were going to hang Brann out at Baylor, and a bunch of the good ol’ boys, including my grandpa, got in their buggies and went out there and saved him,” Moore said.

Later, Brann was shot in the back and killed in 1898 in downtown Waco by the father of a Baptist student he thought Brann had smeared.

Moore, who was in the Army from 1943 to 1946, served as McLennan County district attorney from 1952 to 1958. During that time, he prosecuted the first criminal trial to be televised in the United States.

It was in the early days of television and Moore and Bill Simpson, a young news editor at KWTX-TV in Waco, had been talking about televising a trial sometime. In December 1955, a murder case in which Harry L. Washburn was the defendant was transferred to McLennan County from San Angelo.

Televised case

It was a sensational case in which Washburn was charged with trying to kill his wealthy mother-in-law for cutting off him and her daughter from the family fortune. Washburn put a bomb in her car, but it killed someone else by mistake. The case, Moore and Simpson thought, was made for television, and Judge D.W. Bartlett agreed to allow a TV camera in the balcony of 54th State District Court.

Moore got a conviction against Washburn, who was sentenced to life in prison.

“The trial was better than the soap operas all the women in town were watching, and when we would recess the trial or go to lunch, the women would all go to the grocery store or run their errands so they wouldn’t miss any of it,” Moore said in a 2009 interview.

Retired State District Judge George Allen had known Moore since 1963, when Allen went to work in the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office.

“I’m very sad to hear about Tom Moore Jr. He was always a staunch advocate for the person he represented and did an effective job representing them,” Allen said. “Tom was a yellow-dog Democrat who represented his constituents in the Legislature and as district attorney in an effective and consistent manner.”

House career

Moore was elected to the Texas House of Representatives and served from 1967 to 1973. During the 1971 session, he became one of a group known as the “Dirty 30” because they set aside party loyalty to force out Speaker Gus Mutscher, who later became embroiled in the infamous Sharpstown stock-fraud scandal.

“We were reformers,” Moore said. “We wanted to get something done about it, and Mutscher did wind up getting indicted over the thing. We held our meetings in my office because it was so far up in the top of the capitol, no one knew what we were doing up there. That is where we hatched the Dirty 30 and our push for reform.”

Also while in the House, Moore introduced a resolution to honor Albert DeSalvo for his “pioneering work in population control.” DeSalvo is better known as the Boston Strangler.

It was written at the time that Moore was trying to make the point that lawmakers routinely vote for measures without doing their homework and with no idea what they entail. Moore said that was not right.

“Yes, it passed, but nobody got mad. It was an April Fools’ joke, but it made the press in a different light,” he said.

The gag got worldwide media attention from as far away as London and South Africa. Dan Rowan and Dick Martin gave it the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award on their TV show “Laugh-In.”

Waco attorney Guy Cox, who shared law offices with Moore for 30 years, was part of daily gin rummy games that Moore hosted in the office starting in 1947.

“Tom Moore was not only one of the finest attorneys I ever met, but he was a tremendous person all around,” Cox said. “Like his namesake, St. Thomas More, he was a man for all seasons. He took me in and was my mentor for many, many years. When we used to talk about questions of legal ethics, he always told me if it smells, don’t do it, and that was the rule he lived by.”

Meals on Wheels

Moore delivered lunches to about 20 people in East Waco as part of the Meals on Wheels program for more than a decade. Everyone he brought food to was younger than him.

Cox remembers a time when Moore and his wife, Robbie, went on vacation and Moore asked Cox to take his place on his Meals on Wheels route.

“Every door that I knocked on, it was ‘Where is Mr. Tom? Where is Tom? Where is Mr. Moore?’ ” Cox said. “They loved him and wanted to make sure he was OK.”

Moore’s compassion for others extended to his law practice, where he worked for free in about 60 percent of the cases he handled, Cox said.

“He hasn’t ever sent out a bill from his office,” Robbie Moore said in a 2009 interview. “He says if people are going to pay, they will pay.”

Even when Moore slowed down, he stayed active as long as he could.

“The fellows who retire die,” Moore told the Tribune-Herald when he was 91. “Somehow the will to survive doesn’t seem to carry on in retirement. And besides that’s not all. I love what I am doing and I have friends here and I have had my card game every afternoon here for the last 50 years. It’s a hoot. And you know at my age, everybody is nice to me.”

Moore’s first wife, Natalie, died in 1982 after 39 years of marriage. They had three children, Margaret, Tim and Elizabeth. He and Robbie were married 32 years.

Staff writer at the Waco Tribune-Herald covering courts and criminal justice. Follow me on Twitter @TSpoonFeed.

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