Whayland Kilgore: 2011 Legacy Award recipient

May 15, 2011 at 12:15 a.m.

These days, Whayland Kilgore is taking it easy.

Well into his retirement, the former district judge has replaced running a courtroom and making tough rulings in cases with working on his small ranch in Victoria County and adhering to the rulings made by Dolores Kilgore, his wife of 60 years

"I try to do what my wife tells me to do," Kilgore, 83, chuckled.

Kilgore's life on easy street came after a 25-year career as an attorney and a 20-year career as judge for the 267th Judicial District Court, which covers Victoria, Goliad, Jackson, Calhoun, DeWitt and Refugio counties.

It was his many years of service to the law that earned him a spot as one of two recipients of the 2011 Legacy awards.

"I was glad they thought about me," Kilgore said. "I'm happy about it and thankful."

Kilgore's road to success began far from the halls of Victoria County, where he spent most of his time on the bench.

Born in Goliad County, Kilgore grew up on a small ranch with his father, who worked in construction, his mother, who was a housewife, and his two younger sisters.

Life on a ranch with cattle, pigs and a garden meant Kilgore had to complete chores before his mile-and-a-half walk to school and complete more chores after school.

"We didn't have much time to play," he said.

After graduating from Goliad High School in 1945, Kilgore went on to attain his associate's degree from Victoria College.

Unsure of what career path to follow, he followed in the footsteps of a friend and decided upon law school.

The decision proved to be a good one.

In 1951, after only 27 months, Kilgore, who was on the dean's list, graduated with a law degree from St. Mary's Law School.

He served in the U.S. Navy for two years during the Korean War before he came to Victoria to practice law in 1953.

Upon his arrival in Victoria, the fledgling attorney hit the ground running, starting his own private practice law firm.

His entrepreneurial venture was short-lived, however.

After only three months, Kilgore gave up private practice and became an associate for County Judge P.P. Putney.

"Practicing law by myself, frankly, I was starving to death," said Kilgore, as he laughingly recalled those early days.

He ran for and won the position of county attorney in 1956.

Kilgore went on to practice law for 15 years at the Emmett Cole law firm before he ran for and won the position of district judge in 1982.

Throughout his time on the bench, Kilgore presided over countless criminal and civil trials, including the fraud and breach-of-contract lawsuit brought against Formosa Plastics by Kajima International, as well as the case of Paz Gas v. Tejas Gas over more than $30 million in lost profits.

For Kilgore, his time on the bench certainly lived up to the old adage, "Do something you love and you will never work a day in your life."

"As a judge, I had no stress," said Kilgore. "It was sort of like a vacation, except there was a lot of work."

Kilgore's judgeship also served as an opportunity to learn more about the nature of people as well as an opportunity to mentor young attorneys like William Seerden.

Seerden, who is now a partner in the law firm of Cullen, Carsner, Seerden & Cullen, first met Kilgore in 1971, when Seerden came on board at the Emmett Cole law firm.

"I learned a great deal from him. He was very, very smart. He liked to study the law," said Seerden. "He is a deceptively smart man."

Despite his love of the law, Kilgore retired in 2003 and was replaced by Skipper Koetter.

Now, the father of 11 children, grandfather of 37, and great-grandfather of 12, spends his days mainly dividing his time between his family and church activities.

Although his days of practicing law are over, Kilgore said he wanted to be remembered for one thing - his dedication to being fair.



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