By Phillip McCallum, Executive Director of the Alabama State Bar
For the past seven years, the Alabama State bar has been blessed to work with Robert Thornhill, Director of the Alabama Lawyer Assistance Program (ALAP). As many of you know, there’s a certain piece of wisdom Robert frequently shares–to walk by faith. We’ve been fortunate to watch Robert live out those words of wisdom during his time here at the bar. Robert was dedicated to his mission, and spent most of his days traveling throughout the state to help lawyers, law students and judges struggling with addiction and mental health issues. We will certainly miss Robert when he retires on January 31, 2020.
As president-elect seven years ago, I was on the search committee to find a dedicated and committed individual to help continue the legacy of Jeanne Marie Leslie, former director of ALAP. This was not an easy task, but through careful consideration we decided Robert was the best candidate. Now that I am the Executive Director of the Alabama State Bar, I have had the privilege to meet with many lawyers around the state. It has been a common occurrence for a lawyer to walk up to me and express their gratitude for ALAP and for the difference Robert and the members of the ALAP committee have made in their life or for a struggling unidentified colleague.
Since Robert is a living testimony of the miracle of recovery through the program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), his humility might make it difficult for him to share some of his many achievements while director of ALAP. In addition to sharing the mission of ALAP with bar members at various roadshows and CLEs throughout the state, Robert was honored to be part of a panel in 2018 that presented on the national study regarding alcohol use, depression, anxiety and stress among American attorneys that was published in the February 2016 edition of the Journal of Addiction Medicine. Robert was also on the task force appointed by former bar President Augusta Dowd, which made specific recommendations that were ultimately approved by the Alabama Supreme Court, which meant that lawyers who had been granted disability inactive status to be published as simply “inactive” and without the public stigma associated with it. It is important to note that Robert faced all of these challenges one day at a time, walking by faith and by making his recovery a top priory in his life.
Robert wasn’t just the director of ALAP, he was also the state bar’s in-house entertainment at many staff gatherings and ASB annual meetings. There’s nothing like the sound of Robert’s voice and acoustic guitar to set the tone for an enjoyable time with friends and colleagues.
To Robert’s family, thank you for sharing him with us. We know how much Robert adores his wife, Cindy, and their sons, John and Robert Willis. Knowing he had his family’s support meant a great deal to Robert as he faced many challenges as ALAP director. Like most people in AA, Robert’s service work won’t stop, as he and Cindy will continue to lead a support group for adult children of alcoholics.
Robert, you have been a true blessing and friend to the bar staff and the state bar members. Just as you have demonstrated in your own life each day, we will remember to keep walking on faith as we continue to focus on lawyer wellness.