Hamilton Herald Masthead Hamilton Herald

Editorial


Front Page - Friday, September 28, 2018

SETLAW colleagues cheer Cammon




Tonya Cammon expresses her gratitude to those who chose her as SETLAW’s 2018 Lioness of the Bar. - Photographs by David Laprad

The speakers at a recent event hosted by the Southeast Tennessee Lawyers Association for Women used many different words to describe Grant Konvalinka & Harrison attorney Tonya Cammon, whom they were honoring.

They noted that Cammon is a wife, mother, friend and community volunteer (or, as one speaker said, “a pillar of civic consciousness”). Others referred to her as a cook and musician in equally glowing terms, as well as a sports fanatic and “doggy mommy.”

But the word that brought Cammon and dozens of friends and colleagues to the lobby of Pinnacle Bank on a rainy September evening was “lioness.”

Several organizations have honored Cammon in various ways, including three bar foundations that have made her a Fellow. But SETLAW venerated her achievements specifically as a female attorney when it named her its 2018 Lioness of the Bar.

“We like to highlight women in and around Chattanooga who do a fantastic job as lady lawyers,” SETLAW president Lauren Sherwood Kaywood said as she began the ceremony. “And Tonya has had an impressive, illustrious career.”

Fellow Grant Konvalinka attorney Harry Cash spoke highly of Cammon as a law partner. “Tonya is a wonderful sounding board. Anyone can talk with her about office matters or pending cases,” he added. “She’s a very practical, reasonable and knowledgeable attorney.”

Cash also praised Cammon’s composure and effectiveness during a challenging time at the firm.

“A couple years ago, Tonya was our managing director. I’m not sure what it was, but we had an inordinate number of staffing and personnel problems,” Cash said. “They weren’t Tonya’s fault, but she did have to deal with them. It wasn’t always pleasant, but she handled them professionally, firmly and appropriately, as well as compassionately and fairly.”

Cash was also the first – but not the last – speaker to bring up Cammon’s culinary abilities. “She’s a fabulous cook. If you ever have the opportunity to go to her house and eat, do it,” he urged.

Cash also ribbed Cammon about the depth of her sports knowledge. “I’m not sure why you’d ever want to know who the second baseman for the Chicago Cubs is, but Tonya probably knows,” he continued.

“Javier Baez,” came the reply from his right, where Cammon was seated in a small cluster of chairs with her husband, Barry Cammon, and the other speakers.

“Tonya, from me and the rest of us at Grant Konvalinka – congratulations,” Cash said in closing. “You’re most deserving of this award. SETLAW has made a great choice.”

Joanie Sompayrac, a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga accounting professor and member of a group of Cammon’s attorney colleagues known as “Girls Night Out,” spoke about the kind of friend Cammon is.

“She finds a way to make each of us feel like the most special friend in her circle,” Sompayrac said. “Tonya, I congratulate you for being a Lioness and I thank you for being my friend.”

As the 2018 Lioness of the Bar, Cammon joins an illustrious group. Past Lionesses include legendary Chattanooga attorney Selma Cash Paty, Baker Donelson lawyer Virginia Love, Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Marie Williams and Miller & Martin attorney Marcy Eason.

Chosen by committee, a Lioness must be long-standing member of the bar, an active member of SETLAW, committed to public service and have a track record of mentoring young attorneys.

Sara McManus, immediate past president of SETLAW, said Cammon’s history and value as a mentor elevated her above the other 2018 candidates for Lioness. McManus then read a letter from one of Cammon’s mentees, Grant Konvalinka attorney Brittany Faith, who could not attend the ceremony.

In the letter, Faith wrote that Cammon has been the mentor she “never wanted but couldn’t have survived without.”

“As the female director on the executive committee, Tonya was tasked with passing on any criticism the director might have about me or general advice about things she saw that could be improved. It got to the point that when she would darken my doorway, I would start crying,” McManus read, sparking a burst of laughter from guests. “At some point, I started calling her the Angel of Death. I felt picked on and misunderstood. But as time goes on, I find myself repeating the same advice to new attorneys. It seems she’s a different kind of angel.”

Cammon’s record of volunteer service to both her profession and community were also factors in her selection, McManus pointed out.

Within the legal arena, Cammon has served on the board of governors of the Chattanooga Bar Association and earned several honors from that organization, including the President’s Award and the Albert L. Hodge Volunteer Award. In 2018, she was made a Fellow of the Chattanooga Bar Foundation.

As an active member of the Tennessee Bar Association, Cammon chaired the organization’s Public Education Committee in 2007 and 2008 and continued to serve on that committee for two additional years. She has also been named a Fellow of the Tennessee Bar Foundation.

In addition, Cammon has served locally and nationally as an officer of the Federal Bar Association. She is a former sixth circuit vice president of the organization and currently serves as chair of its Access to Justice task force.

In 2015, Cammon was named a fellow of the FBA Foundation. She is one of only 251 FBA Foundation fellows from across the country, including seven retired or sitting associate justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, and is one of only three Tennessee attorneys so honored.

Cammon is also a past president of SETLAW and a current master of the Brock-Cooper Inn of Court.

Cammon has made numerous contributions to her community as well. She has served on the Chattanooga Human Rights/Human Relations Commission, is a former chair of the board of directors of AIM Center (a mental health organization) and has served as a member of the state advisory board for Project Citizen (a civics organization for middle school students).

Cammon has also served as a member of the Memorial Health Care System Foundation board of directors and is a former chair of the Southeast Development District’s advisory council for the Tennessee Economic Council on Women. She currently serves on the board of directors of the Downtown Council of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce and the board of Chattanooga Room in the Inn.

Cammon is a native of Mississippi. She earned a Bachelor of Science from Millsaps College, a post-graduate degree in medical technology and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Mississippi School of Law.

After law school, Cammon served as law clerk to the Hon. Armis Hawkins, then chief justice of the Supreme Court of Mississippi.

Cammon joined Grant Konvalinka in 1993. She has served on the firm’s executive committee and as managing director for the firm. Cammon concentrates her practice in the areas of employment law, health care and litigation.

Cammon and her husband reside on Lookout Mountain and have three children. Sadie, a rescued boxer, and Grancy Graybeard, a rescued mixed-breed dog, complete their family.

In addition to being an avid sports fan, Cammon is a classically-trained pianist who loves travel, reading and gardening.

After receiving the weighty honor, a glass award made specifically for SETLAW, Cammon thanked the gathering and said she’d had fun.

“I want to thank my family, including my husband, Barry, who’s very supportive, which allows me to do many of the things I do,” she said. “To those of you who have called me a good friend: I look out among you and see myself reflected a hundred times in the faces of people who are that kind of friend to me.

“Thank you. This means a lot to me.”