Associate Justice, Texas Supreme Court, 1950-1961
Chief Justice, Texas Supreme Court, 1961-1972
Robert Wilburn Calvert was born February 22, 1905, in Lawrence
County, Tennessee. His father, a sharecropper, died in 1912 when
Robert was just seven years old, leaving the family without
financial support. The following year, his mother brought Robert and
his two siblings to Texas and placed them in the State Orphans' Home
in Corsicana. For the next ten years he endured harsh conditions
there including hunger, physical abuse, and near death during the
influenza epidemic of 1918, which claimed the life of his sister,
also a resident at the Home.
Calvert graduated from the State Orphans' Home high school as
salutatorian of his class in 1923. That fall he moved to Austin and
entered The University of Texas, where he studied law. He supported
himself by working in state jobs at the Capitol building, dropping
out of school from time to time due to financial difficulties.
Following his graduation from law school in 1931, Calvert practiced
law in Hillsboro and entered public service, first as a district
attorney. He was a member of the Texas House of Representatives from
1933 to 1939, and was Speaker of the House from 1937 to 1939. He ran
unsuccessfully for state attorney general in 1938.
Calvert married in 1933, and he and his wife had two children. The
couple divorced in 1958. He married again in 1962. During the 1940s,
Calvert served as Hillsboro City Attorney, Hill County Attorney, and
as president of the Hillsboro Independent School District. In 1946,
he became the chair of the state executive committee of the
In 1950 Calvert was elected associate justice of the Texas Supreme
Court, and held that post until 1961, when he was elected chief
justice. He was chief justice until 1972. The 378 opinions he
authored during his tenure were known for their brevity and clarity.
Calvert served as chairman of the National Conference of Chief
Justices from 1970 to 1971.
Following his twenty-two years of supreme court service, Calvert
returned to private legal practice. He was a member of the Texas
State Ethics Advisory Commission from 1984 to 1985.
Robert W. Calvert died October 6, 1994 in Waco. He was buried in the
Texas State Cemetery in Austin next to his second wife, who
predeceased him by several months.
Bennett, Bruce. Judge Robert W. Calvert?Our Namesake. Robert W.
Calvert, American Inn of Court website (visited September 21, 2006
Joseph M. Ray, ed. Here Comes the Judge: From State Home to State
House, Memoirs of Robert W. Calvert (Waco, Texas: Texan Press,
Calvert, Robert W. State Cemetery website (visited September 21,
Calvert, Robert W. Texas Politics (visited September 21, 2006).
Calvert, Robert W. Here Comes the Judge: from State Home to State
House: Memoirs of Robert Calvert. Joseph M. Ray, ed. (Waco, Texas:
Texian Press, 1977).
Additional information available in Southwestern Historical
Quarterly as follow:
Volume 60, page 19
Volume 62, page 262
Volume 82, page 329
Additional information available in Texas Bar Journal as follow:
Volume 1, page 62
Volume 13, page 494
Volume 14, page 22
Volume 21, page 75
Volume 24, page 13, 15, 937
Volume 25, page 639
Volume 26, page 101
Volume 27, page 963
Volume 28, page 344
Volume 33, page 694, 977
Volume 35, page 270, 303, 668, 877, 999, 1001
Volume 36, page 24, 183, 738, 884, 1126
Volume 37, page 523
Volume 43, page 910
Combs, W. Arthur. Robert W. Calvert, Chief Justice, Supreme Court of
Texas (From State Home to State House),Trial Lawyers Forum 17+
Success Story, Waco Tribune Herald, Aug. 20, 1959.
Turner, Thomas. Lawyers Bore and Baffle Judges, Too, Says Jurist,
Dallas Morning News, Apr. 11, 1953.
Calvert Asks Re-election to High Court, Dallas Morning News, Apr.
Morehead, Richard. Calvert Ready to Run for Chief Justice Post,
Dallas Morning News, Sept. 17, 1959.
Gardner, William H. Justice Calvert Decries Anarchy, Houston Post,
May 21, 1967.
Morehead, Richard M. Calvert Faces Dilemma About Retirement Now,
Dallas Morning News, July 12, 1970.
Byer, Bo. Calvert to Snub Dinner with Kennedy as Speaker, Houston
Chronicle, July 17, 1970.
Calvert Elected Chairman of Chief Justice Group, Houston Chronicle,
Aug. 9, 1970.
New Head of Justices Will Still Snub Ted, Houston Post, Aug. 9,
Chief Justice Calvert Plans to Call It Quits, Dallas Morning News,
Sept. 18, 1971.
Justice Calvert to Retire, Houston Post, Sept. 18, 1971.
Schultz, Gary. Retiring Chief Justice Due House Chamber Honors,
Austin American, May 5, 1972.
Calvert Leaves Supreme Court, Austin Statesman, Sept. 18, 1972.
Calvert 'Top Texan', Austin American-Statesman, Feb. 26, 1974.
Ex-Justice Calvert Cited for Long Career in Law, Austin
American-Statesman, Mar. 30, 1974.
5/25/2003 State Home ex-student remembered
The June 14-15, 2003, homecoming at the Corsicana State Home gives this writer, a 1943 graduate of "The Home," cause to remember one of the most well known graduates: Robert W. Calvert, graduate of the class of 1923.
Robert was born in 1905, the son of Porter Calvert, a sharecropper. Following the death of their father in 1912, in 1913, his mother and her four children traveled to
Corsicana, where Grady, his brother, and Robert, along with their sister Maxie Lillian, were admitted to The Home. Robert was age 8.
Every child at the Home had assigned chores according to his age. In the little boys' building Robert's first job was to carry wood from the wood yard to the kitchen. Later he cleaned dormitories, made beds, swept and mopped floors, milked at least two cows by hand in the early morning and late afternoon. In the dairy, where the milk was separated and the butter was made, with the old-time churns with a hole in the lid and a plunger, which was pumped up and down until butter was made. He worked also in the cow lot, shoveling cow dung into wheelbarrows and hauling it off to a pile where it could later be used as fertilizer. His final duty at the Home was feeding the hogs for at least a year. Most of the feeding was "slop" from the dining hall. He had a large barrel which was suspended between two wheels on an axle with shafts and a handle. He wheeled it down to the hog pens, and dumped it into the troughs, going back until he had it all delivered to his children,
at the far end of the campus.
Robert learned to fight, a necessity in growing up among hundreds of "brothers" in the Home. He once picked a fight with Roy Stokes, who was unusually mean. Robert was rather glad when that fight ended. Roy Stokes may been the only State Home student who later had a serious criminal career. He committed two murders after leaving the Home. He was still under age at the time of the first one and was placed in the Reformatory at Gatesville. Somewhat later, he murdered a black man and went to the electric chair.
Robert loved to read while in the Home. He devoured the Horatio Alger books. He fantasized with the historical and mythological heroes. He read all of Zane Grey's westerns he could lay his hands on.
Robert's widowed mother married again in
1914, but later divorced and placed their two boys in the State Home also in 1923, just a few months before Bob's graduation. I recall one mother who was widowed three times and she placed three sets of children in the Home.
Excellent medical care was provided by the staff at the new hospital during the influenza epidemic in 1918, and no more than a dozen of the 400 students escaped the flu, but while Bob was delirious with the flu, his sister Maxie Lillian became very ill, and died in the hospital. Her name is engraved in the obelisk that marks the little cemetery there on the Home grounds.
By the time Armistice Day came, Nov. 11, 1918, Bob had learned how to play the cornet, so he marched down Beaton Street in Corsicana.
Mr. Minatra's arrival at the Home brought about the creation of two literary societies, The Excelsior and The Invincible; Bob was an Invincible. The students learned public speaking-declamation, oratory, debate, and essay writing contests. Mr. Minatra had himself been a debater in Baylor University at Waco.
Bob and another student won the county and district meets of the state interscholastic debate competition, but they lost in the second round at the state level.
Bob played both tennis and football. In the fall of 1922 he was the team quarterback for "The State Home Lads." They drove to Waco in cars, but one car broke down on the way, so they arrived with 11 football players, exactly the number needed and no substitutes. Waco beat the orphan Lads, 119 to 0. See "TEXAS" by James A. Michener, Page 892.
In light of Bob's undistinguished academic record later on in the University of Texas, he was a good student throughout his 10 years at the State Home. He graduated in a class of 13 with salutatorian honors, with better than a 92 average. Frank Haley was the valedictorian and he and Bob entered the University of Texas at Austin and were roommates during their freshman year.
Bob was torn between law at the University
of Texas and animal husbandry at Texas A&M College. The decision to become a lawyer was largely influenced by his participation in a big brothers program which Superintendent Minatra had arranged for the institution's boys.
Those who had the greatest influence were Luther Johnson, who was elected to Congress from that district in 1922, and Beauford Jester, then a young lawyer in Corsicana, and his brother Charley Jester, who was in the loan and real estate business in Corsicana.
Luther Johnson was at one time for a brief period Bob's Big Brother.
Beauford and Charley Jester got Bob a membership when the DeMolays were in Corsicana, and he provided him with the necessary uniform and other things Bob had to have to be a member. Beauford Jester came to State Home campus frequently to speak to the students. Bob was motivated to try to emulate him.
Superintendent Odie Minatra arranged through the State Board of Control at Austin to get Bob a part-time job starting Sept. 1, 1923, operating the "front" elevator in the Capitol.
At the University it didn't take long for Bob to discover a new found freedom. He had been under strict discipline from the time he was 8 to 18; he got up by the bell in the morning -- or the night watchman had rolled him out at 5 a.m. to
milk -- went to breakfast, to school, to other meals, to evening study hall, and then to bed by the bell, and it was lights out. In Austin there was no bell or any kind of discipline so Bob lost a good deal of self-discipline. It did not help that most of the rooming-house fellows were pleasure-bent and Bob joined them quickly. They were more interested in fun than in making good grades.
Bob graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1931.
He entered law practice in Hillsboro and ran for the Texas House of Representatives where he served three terms beginning in 1933. He was House speaker in 1937-39.
Bob was county attorney of Hill County in 1943-47 and chairman of the State Democratic Executive Committee in 1946-48, before beginning more than two decades on Texas' highest
civil appeals court.
He was elected as a Supreme Court justice in 1950, and elected chief justice in 1960. In 1973, he was named chairman of the Texas Constitutional Revision Commission.
Retired Chief Justice, Texas Supreme Court Robert W. Calvert died on Thursday, Oct. 6, 1994, in Waco, Texas. He was 89. He was survived by daughter Carolyn Pool of Hamilton, Texas.
Homecoming, June 2003, at State Home will be the 80th anniversary of Bob's graduation and the 60th anniversary of the writer's in 1943.
I remain forever grateful for the care and education provided for me by the State of Texas for 14 years.
Charles Johnson of Dunnellon, Fla., is a
1943 graduate of the State Home in Corsicana. As the 2003 State Homecoming nears, the Daily Sun will publish several of his pieces.