Ronald Gorsline was a busy man. An attorney, he’d moved to a new firm earlier in 2012 and was hard at work developing a new avenue of practice. But he was about to learn life can change in a heartbeat.
A native of Greenville, S.C., Gorsline graduated from Bob Jones University in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in social studies education. Work took him to Indiana, where he taught high school for a brief time. While he liked teaching, his thoughts eventually turned to the law. Gorsline had been exposed to the profession through his brother, an attorney, and he believed he had a proclivity for the work.
“I liked taking complex matters and boiling them down to their essence,” he says. “Plus, it was an opportunity to do something exciting, and to challenge myself.”
Gorsline received his law degree from Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law in 1988, then began his legal career at Stophel & Stophel in Chattanooga. He’d interviewed with firms in other cities, but he wanted to return to the South to practice law, so when brothers John and Glenn Stophel offered him a job, he packed his family and his things, and made the move.
“Chattanooga is a lot like Greenville,” he says. “I fell in love with this city.”
While at Stophel & Stophel, Gorsline worked under the tutelage of John, a man for whom he gained tremendous respect. The elder Stophel not only mentored Gorsline as he learned the ins and outs of practicing the law, he served as an example of the kind of lawyer Gorsline wanted to be.
“John believed in doing your work in a timely manner and charging a fair price,” he says. “He took the time to get to know his clients so he could work more efficiently, and he did his best for them. To this day, I strive to live up to his example.”
Years later, Gorsline started to focus on consumer financial services and regulatory compliance. But to grow his budding practice, he needed ties to Washington, D.C. A chance encounter with Tom Hudson, the co-founder of Hudson Cook, opened the door to the nation’s capital.
“I was at a conference with an associate, and we were eating at a restaurant with a long, narrow dining room. The waiter had seated the associate and me in a booth and Tom at a nearby table. Tom was by himself, so I offered to buy his dinner if he joined us,” he says.
Based in Maryland, Hudson Cook has offices across the country, including a branch in Washington, D.C. So in 2012, Gorsline and two of his colleagues, Blake Sims and Justin Hosie, moved to the firm’s Tennessee office to develop their consumer financial services and regulatory compliance practice.
And then, between heart beats on Dec. 18, 2012, Gorsline’s life changed when his wife, Becky, suffered a major stroke. She wasn’t expected to live.
“She spent two weeks at Erlanger and then five weeks at Siskin, and then did rehab for a year,” Gorsline says. “Through the Lord’s grace, she made a full recovery.”
Nearly losing his wife and then watching her fight her way back shifted Gorsline’s perspective on life. Although he aspired to be the kind of attorney his mentor taught him to be, he also wanted to concentrate more on other things, including his family and his community.
“My wife’s stroke caused me to focus on my family, and to savor the moments we have together,” he says. “As lawyers, we sometimes forget there are other things out there besides work.”
Gorsline also decided to devote more time to building up the attorneys under him. “I want to help the younger lawyers here develop their careers and be successful,” he says. “That’s what John did with me. It wasn’t always easy, but it made me a better attorney.”
Finally, Gorsline wanted to contribute more to his community. He’d learned the importance of giving back from John, who was known for being generous with his time and talents. To that end, Gorsline is currently serving on the advisory board of the local chapter of the Salvation Army, on the parent’s advisory council of Clemson University, where his youngest son is going to college, and on the finance committee at Grace Baptist Church, where he and his wife attend services. Gorsline has also served on the president’s advisory council at Bob Jones University.
Through his practice, Gorsline has contributed legal work to several nonprofits as well. “There are a number of organizations out there that want to do the right things and make good choices, and because of my experience dealing with businesses and their problems, I can help those organizations avoid making mistakes,” he says.
Using his legal expertise to help others has made the practice of law even more gratifying for Gorsline, who encourages all attorneys to find something about which they’re passionate and pitch in.
Although Gorsline has rearranged his priorities, he’s as busy as ever at work. He continues to grow his consumer financial services and regulatory compliance practice from his office in Ooltewah, and is a frequent guest speaker and workshop presenter to national industry groups. In addition, he regularly advises financial institutions regarding a variety of matters.
There is an end to each work day, though, and time remaining for family. Gorsline and his wife have three children, including Justin, 30, a nurse at Memorial Hospital; Meredith, 28, a tax accountant in Greenville, S.C.; and Cameron, a junior at Clemson. This leaves Gorsline and Becky to themselves in a large, somewhat secluded house on Noah Reid Road.
The house was once owned by Glenn, and came with about ten acres, most of which are forested. An acre or so serves as what Gorsline likes to think of as his homestead. There, he keeps bees, cares for his cats and dogs, and gives hay rides to the children of visiting parents on his 1962 John Deere tractor – which he also purchased from Glenn. “I’m a gentleman farmer, “ he says, smiling. “I’ve always enjoyed God’s creation and working outside.”
As an attorney, Gorsline stood for many years in the light of a legend. Although he claims his career is a mere shadow of John’s, his dedication to his clients and his commitment to public service give him the right to stand proud. He can do likewise at home, where he’s never wavered from his wife’s side since the day their lives changed. Gorsline didn’t just alter his priorities that day, he changed his life, and now the lives and careers of others will be better for it.
The elder Stophel brother would approve.
Chattanooga Bar Association
Tennessee Bar Association
State Bar of Georgia
American Bar Association
Christian Legal Society
BNA Tax Management Portfolio’s “Estates, Gifts and Trusts, Tax Issues of Educational Organizations” (co-author)
“When is a Cheque not a Cheque?” published in the Journal of Payments Strategy & Systems
To see more photos, pick up a copy of this week's Hamilton County Herald.