Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, December 18, 2015

From Alaska to Chattanooga: a journey of four decades

Attorney Jill Thrash is a solo practitioner with a general civil practice in Chattanooga. She says her working relationships with her clients are the keys to her success. - (Photo by David Laprad)

Perhaps there’s something about being raised in the Alaskan wilderness, but even as a child, Jill Thrash would reach beyond her circumstances to grasp things that seemed out of reach.

Thrash’s family had moved to Alaska when she was three – and not one of the populated areas, either, unless one counts bears, wolves, and other wildlife. Rather, they lived in a cabin with no running water, no electricity, and no roads nearby. She barely noticed, calling her childhood “magical.”

“I had the best sled run in the world,” she says. “I came up with it on my own.”

The travel bug bit Thrash when she and her family visited her brother in Germany, where he was stationed in the Air Force. As she recalls the trip, a smile that contains all of the joy of experiencing the journey for the first time breaks across her face. “I was hooked. The culture, and the differences between their way of life and ours, fascinated me,” she says.

By this time, Thrash was living with her mother in the small Alaskan town of Soldotna. (Her parents had divorced.) There, she dreamed of the larger world, and of seeing it again someday. To satisfy her curiosity, she wrote letters to the embassies of the different countries she wanted to visit, and they in turn sent her brochures that fed her fever.

“My friends had rock stars on their walls,” she says. “I had posters of Machu Picchu.”

Still, Thrash was largely a typical teen, which means she didn’t have the financial resources to travel. But that didn’t stop her. At the age of 15, she applied to do field service, and was awarded the opportunity to serve in Peru. “I was determined to do what I wanted to do. I was going to find a way there,” she says.

Even a declaration of martial law by the Peruvian government following a terrorist attack didn’t hold Thrash back. “My parents told me I wasn’t going. I told them we had a contract,” she says. “I wore them down.”

Thrash also visited China and Spain as a teen, so when the time for college came, she easily pulled up her roots and transplanted herself in New York City, where she studied languages in the hopes of becoming a translator at the United Nations. “I wanted to get as far away from Soldotna as I could,” she says, laughing. “I loved getting out of Alaska.”

After graduation, Thrash was unable to find the kind of work she wanted, so she took a job with an asbestos company. The people there encouraged her to become a lawyer. She thought it sounded exciting. “I didn’t know about the stress that comes with the job or work-life balance,” she says.

Ever resourceful, Thrash secured a scholarship to study international business law at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore. Upon graduation, she returned to Alaska, where she did defense litigation with a number of Anchorage firms.

Her days of reaching for broader horizons, however, were not over. Only this time love, not wanderlust, drew her beyond her home state.

“Some of the girls in the office said I should try meeting someone online,” she says. “I had a coupon for a dating site, so I went for it. My husband was the first person I met.”

Will was from Chattanooga. After a year of long distance dating and visits to see each other, Thrash made the leap to the Scenic City, got married, and took a job with a local law firm.

And still her travels were not over.

Thrash and her husband wanted to raise a child together, but she was 40, and he already had a 20-year-old daughter, so they decided to adopt. Their search for a child led them to Russia, and the beginning of a year of intense preparation. Mountains of paperwork later, they were approved. Thrash and her husband met their son when he was nine months old. “He was the most adorable baby I’d ever seen,” she says the edges of her eyes tearing up.

Thrash and her husband named their child Henry Alexander Thrash. “No one in Russia knew his background, so they had called him Alexander,” Thrash says. “We kept that as his middle name and then named him after Hank Aaron, my husband’s hero.”

While Thrash loved her son and enjoyed being a parent, she was unable to strike an equitable balance between career and home, so she decided to leave the firm at which she was working and launch her own practice. “I want my son to know who I am,” she says.

Thrash is coming up on two years as a solo practitioner, and she says it’s going nicely. From her offices at home and in the Republic Centre downtown, Thrash runs a general civil practice dedicated to providing what she calls “cost-effective” legal solutions to individuals and businesses in the Chattanooga area.

“My practice is relationship-based. My clients come to me, and I become their attorney,” she says. “I’m here to do whatever they need, and I make myself as available as possible.”

Although busy, Thrash has struck the work-life balance that eludes many attorneys. Her biggest challenge now is not meeting her quota of billable hours but getting Henry to bed. “That’s a lot of work,” she says.

Thrash’s whole face is smiling again at the thought of her family. When she travels now, they go with her, and when she’s home, they are her constant companions. Family time is important, and can include everything from excursions to the local skating rink to Predator home games. “I grew up playing hockey on a pond in Alaska,” she says. “I’m a hardcore fan.”

Thrash also likes animals, or at least the three cats and two dogs that share their home suggest she does. She can often be found walking the canine members of her household on the greenway in Hixson, where the family lives.

Thrash has a good life – one worth every mile of the long and winding road she’s traveled. From a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness, to a successful one-woman law practice, to becoming a wife and mother, she’s used her ingenuity and resourcefulness to acquire what she wants. For now, however, she appears to have settled in and made Chattanooga her long-term home; if there’s another life-changing adventure in her future, it will have to wait. When that day finally comes, though, there will be no stopping her.  

To see more photos, pick up a copy of this week's Hamilton County Herald.