“Man gives you the award, but God gives you the reward.” – Denzel Washington
A quote attributed to actor Denzel Washington suggests that while human accolades are valued, there’s a deeper form of reward that exceeds worldly recognition. For the present, however, earthly awards must suffice, as the Grammys, Emmys, Oscars and more attest.
To that end, the Chattanooga Bar Association annually recognizes a select few members whose zealous practice of law and contributions to the community merit special recognition. The organization announces the previous year’s tributes at its annual members luncheon, which this year took place Jan. 31 at The Westin Chattanooga.
The 2023 recipients included two lawyers in private practice, a 30-year servant of the local bar and a retired judge, all of whom accepted their honor with only a nod and a “Thank you” drowned in applause, possibly to allow their body of work to speak for them.
The presenters, however, spared no phrase that heaped praise on the recipients, beginning with 2024 CBA President Steve Smith, who announced the winner of the Harry Weill Zealous Practice of Law Award.
Harry Weill Award
“I don’t deserve this award, but I have arthritis, and I don’t deserve that, either.”
– Jack Benny
“Zeal is eagerness and ardent interest in pursuit of something,” Smith said as he began his introduction of attorney Mike Little as the recipient of the Harry Weill Zealous Practice of Law Award.
Likewise, Smith referenced the preamble to Rule 8 of the Tennessee Rules of the Supreme Court, which mentions a lawyer’s obligation to “zealously protect and pursue a client’s legitimate interests, within the bounds of the law.”
Indeed, the CBA’s board of governors presents the Harry Weill award yearly to a member of the bar whose “energetic and enthusiastic service to clients is worthy of praise.”
To that end, Smith noted that Little was the first in his family to finish college, drove four days a week to attend classes at the Nashville School of Law while working as a bailiff in local criminal courts, and has conducted 60 trials as lead counsel during 27 years of practice.
“It’s my honor to present this award to a friend and a wonderful person,” Smith announced as he concluded his remarks.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you win an award, it’s always special.” – French athlete Zinedine Zidane
When 2023 CBA President Judge Philyaw announced Lynda Minx Hood, the organization’s executive director, as the recipient of the President’s Award, it wasn’t the first time Hood had received the distinction during her 30-year tenure.
Although Hood was visibly demure as she accepted the trophy, Philyaw insisted she was the one who – as the name of the award designates – most helped him during his year in office.
“As I took office last year, I recognized the great work of this association over the decades and pledged to do everything I could do to make sure our 126th year was a great year of building on its legacy. I believe we did that.”
Philyaw then summarized the activities of the bar in 2023, including hosting its inaugural pickleball tournament, starting a book club, honoring Judges Don Poole and Mike Carter with portraits, bringing in Judge Alberto Gonzales for a Q&A session during the annual Law Day luncheon, hosting a reception for the Tennessee Supreme Court and other events.
Philyaw said many people – from the CBA’s staff and board members to its past presidents and volunteers – provided him with tremendous support throughout the year. However, he also said he didn’t know going into 2023 how much work Hood does.
“I don’t think any of us realizes how much our executive director does until we sit in the president’s chair. I served more as a sounding board than a helpful hand, and there’s no question that Lynda’s work during and after business hours helped me more than any other one person.”
After joking that he didn’t want to cause Hood to “run for early retirement,” Philyaw said it was his honor to announce her as the President’s Award recipient for 2023.
Jac Chambliss Award
“I have one piece of advice for those of you who want to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award: start early.”
– Shirley Temple
Judge L. Marie Williams did start early when Gov. Don Sundquist appointed her to serve as the first female judge of a trial court in Hamilton County in 1995. Williams went on to serve 28 years on the bench before retiring this year as the longest serving judge in Hamilton County.
Before becoming a judge, Williams practiced law for 18 years with the Chattanooga law firm of Spears, Moore, Rebman & Williams.
Philyaw, who presented the Jac Chambliss Lifetime Achievement Award, said Williams’ work on both fronts was “admirable.”
“This award is presented to a member of the bar who’s demonstrated the highest standards of excellence for the legal profession, facilitated access to the justice system, served and supported the community and maintained a high standard of ethics. (Judge Williams) has done all of those things and done them well.”
Ralph Kelly Award
“Winning or not winning an award doesn’t affect me. I just like to do my best work.” – Bollywood singer KK
Chosen by a secret committee, the CBA’s Ralph H. Kelly Humanitarian Award “honors a lawyer or judicial officer whose contributions to the legal and general community are among the most valuable one who’s earned admission to the bar can make,” Williams said as she took the podium to present the honor to attorney Arnold Stulce.
Williams went on to note that Stulce, in both his daily life and his practice, consistently respects and values people from all walks of life.
“He treats his both his clients and his opponents with respect. A key component of his approach are his dedication to the ethical dictates of our practice, which he describes as simply the things our parents taught us about how to live.”
Professionally, Stulce has served his community as a municipal judge and a city attorney, while his contributions to the bar have included serving as chair of the executive committee of the CBA Fellows, of which he is a member.
Stulce has also volunteered on the Fee Dispute Committee and the Tennessee Bar Association’s House of Delegates.
In the community, Stulce’s fingerprints can be found on the Soddy Daisy High School Football Stadium, for which he provided pro bono legal services during the formation of its steering committee in 1984, at the Chattanooga Food Bank, where he’s volunteered, as a member of the FACES board, and as a member of Soddy United Methodist Church, where he’s taught Sunday School, washed dishes and served as chair of the administrative council.
Stulce received his license to practice law in 1977. After beginning with Hatfield, Van Cleve, Akers & Adams, which later became Hatfield, Van Cleve, Stulce, Yantis & Styles, he then launched a practice with law school classmate John Yantis. Today, he’s a member of Mckoon, Williams, Atchley & Stulce.
In closing, Williams notes that Stulce has been married for 47 years to the “lovely Becky,” with whom he has two children.
“It’s with great pleasure that I present the Ralph H. Kelly Humanitarian Award to a true humanitarian – Arnold Stulce,” Williams said in closing.
While neither Stulce nor any of the other award recipients offered an acceptance speech, if they had, they might have echoed the words of either James Welch, an English soldier who said, “To receive this award from an organization I admire makes me happy and grateful,” or actor Linda Fiorentino, who said, “In the end, it’s about the work, not an award you get for the work.”