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FROM THE ALABAMA LAWYER: Through Their Eyes - Jane Dishuck and Louise Turner

By Robert L. Humphrey, III and Ian R. Ross

Jane Dishuck, née Kimbrough, grew up the daughter of an attorney in Clark County during the Great Depression. Despite the social norms of the time, Jane’s father told her she could be whatever she wanted to be; but he hoped that the apple wouldn’t fall too far from the tree and that she would become an attorney. That hope would be fulfilled.

In 1945, Jane enrolled at the University of Alabama School of Law. There, she met her soon-to-be husband, Frank Dishuck. Frank was in the class above Jane, a 2L at the time of her enrollment.

Prior to law school, Frank had been involved in a car accident that left him completely blind. As a result, he was unable to complete his assigned readings alone. To help, the school posted a job offer for a fellow student to be Frank’s reader. Jane, being a classically strapped-for-cash student, jumped at the opportunity. She got the job, and every day, Jane and Frank would meet up and she would read aloud each assigned case for his classes. Of course, Jane was also responsible for reading her own first-year coursework. Despite this large workload, Jane found a way and essentially completed two years of law school coursework in her first year.

The two eventually fell in love. But Frank came as a package deal: him and his seeing-eye dog, a German Shepherd named Falcon. After Jane’s graduation in 1947, the couple eloped and were married. The newlyweds wasted no time getting to work. Roughly 19 years before women were allowed to serve on juries, Jane joined practice with Frank (and Falcon) and opened a firm in Tuscaloosa, becoming the first practicing female attorney there.

Tragically, Frank passed away a few years later after suffering a heart attack in the courtroom. On the same day that Frank died, a local lawyer attempted to buy her firm at a discounted rate. She was offended. And she declined.

Over the next 30 years, Jane would successfully maintain and grow the practice, all while raising three children by herself. She routinely tried cases to all-male juries. Later, she had the satisfaction of representing the aforementioned local lawyer’s ex-wife in a divorce proceeding. The ex-wife received a favorable outcome, and the local lawyer learned a valuable lesson: Don’t mess with Jane Dishuck.

Her children, one of whom became Jane’s law partner, noted that their mother “would fight you to death, but be a perfect lady about it.” This fighting spirit served Jane well, as she went on to become the first female president of the Tuscaloosa County Bar Association.

Leaving a legacy as a prominent lawyer and community leader, Jane passed away in 2009–joining Frank and Falcon.

Just four years after Jane graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law, Louise Turner enrolled there. Unlike Jane, Louise was married before she enrolled. She had met her husband, Jimmy Turner, while obtaining her undergraduate degree in journalism at Alabama.

Her husband had enlisted as a Marine while he was in the ninth grade, fought in World War II, and been blinded after he was hit by machine-gun fire at Iwo Jima. After a year-long recovery in Philadelphia and receiving a Purple Heart, Jimmy returned home to Alabama and began undergraduate classes at the University of Alabama under the G.I. Bill.

Jimmy, like Frank Dishuck, had a German Shepherd seeing-eye dog, Dusty. Dogs being reliable tests of character, Louise quickly became Dusty’s favorite person in class. In short order, Jimmy and Louise fell in love and married.

During their courtship in undergraduate school, Louise began reading for Jimmy. When he decided to pursue becoming an attorney–also courtesy of the G.I. Bill–she carried her role as reader into the halls of the law school. Louise originally planned to become a teacher, but as she read Jimmy’s first-year coursework and dove into case after case, she quickly became infatuated with the study of law.

In 1951, Louise enrolled in law school as one of five women in her class. Like the Dishucks, the Turners were separated in law school by one year. Again, like the Dishucks, Louise read Jimmy’s cases to him while she kept up with her work one grade below him.

Louise Turner graduated from law school in 1953, and she and Jimmy immediately formed the Tuscaloosa firm of Turner & Turner.

This firm still serves the community today. While Louise and Jimmy are no longer at the helm of the ship, they left the firm in the capable hands of their children–several of whom became lawyers themselves.

However, the founders did not pass the wheel without making their mark on the Alabama legal landscape and, most importantly, helping a whole lot of people along the way. The Turner children recall the office always being stocked with an assortment of fruits and vegetables, pies and homemade cookies–compensation from grateful clients who could not pay and to whom Louise would not refuse service. She once remarked that she enjoyed the practice of law so much that as long as she could crawl into the office, she would continue to do so.

Louise continued to read for her husband throughout their practice. Whether it was a new landmark case or the Sunday paper, her role as her husband’s reader never changed. When Louise passed away on March 3, 2010, she was buried next to Jimmy.

Following her death, the Alabama State Bar and the Tuscaloosa County Bar Association drafted a joint resolution honoring Louise for a “lifetime of dedicated service” and for her goal of “helping all those who needed her legal skills.”

Both Jane and Louise were honored in 2008 by the Alabama State Bar Women’s Section as co-recipients of the Maud McLure Kelly Award, presented at the annual meeting in Sandestin. Kelly was the first woman admitted to the practice of law in Alabama, after her performance on the entrance exam at the University of Alabama Law Department merited her admission as a senior.

All in all, Jane Dishuck and Louise Turner shared many interesting similarities. And both women embodied what it means to be an Alabama lawyer. Jane and Louise influenced many people to follow in their footsteps.

It’s hard to not take a step back and marvel at their journey.