By BECKY GILLETTE
There has been a Dabney law firm in Mississippi since before the Civil War. So not only does Dabney & Dabney lay claim to being the oldest law firm in the state, at 90 years old, Lucius Bryan Dabney Jr. is also likely the longest practicing attorney in the state having been licensed to practice law since 1949 — a total of 67 years.
Dabney still goes into the office every weekday and on Saturdays, when necessary.
What is the secret to his longevity in life and as an attorney? He followed the advice of his father, who was known by his middle name, Bryan, who told him that upon reaching the age of 50, start each day walking for an hour before breakfast. And never retire.
“My father told me he was not retiring because it was very simple: When you retire, you drop dead,” Dabney said.
“He told me to keep my weight down, and I have, and get a good urologist and a good cardiologist, which I did. And I have happily survived four heart bypasses in 1999 and surgery for a new heart valve in 2005.”
Dabney is a sixth generation attorney. His ancestor Benjamin King Dabney founded the firm back in the 1794 in Virginia, and his son, Phillip Augustine Lee Dabney, was a lawyer practicing in Virginia before he moved to Raymond in 1835. One of his sons, Marye Dabney, moved from Raymond to Edwards, which was a thriving community at the time, before moving to Vicksburg in 1885. Marye Dabney brought his nephew, Moncure Dabney, into the law firm. Moncure, the present Dabney’s grandfather, had two sons, Lucius Bryan Dabney Sr., and Frederick Yeamans Dabney, both of whom went law school at Millsaps College.
“It is not generally known that Millsaps used to have a law school,” Dabney said.
“My understanding is the Millsaps Law School closed at the end of May 1917 because everyone had left to join the Army to go to France for World War I. I have a picture of my father and uncle in uniform in Paris, France, October 1918.”
Dabney did his undergraduate work in electrical engineering at the Virginia Military Institute, but didn’t get to finish because he was drafted at age 18 to serve in World War II. He had long been interested in electrical engineering, and worked repairing teletypewriters. He was a technician fifth grade in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. To this day he has a fondness for teletypewriters and has a small collection of antique teletypewriters.
After World War II, Dabney came back and attended the University of Mississippi School of Law, graduating in 1949. He also finished ROTC and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Reserve. When he came back to Vicksburg, he transferred his commission to the Mississippi National Guard. He practiced law in Vicksburg until January 1951 when the 31st Dixie Division of the Mississippi National Guard was called to active duty during the Korean War.
After serving in the Korean War, he returned to Vicksburg to practice law with his father. They had a general practice of law. But, in 1956, they decided it was practical to specialize in four fields:: real estate, commercial, insurance and estates.
Dabney is a solo practitioner. His daughter, Emily Dabney, practiced with the firm for about five years and then she moved to Chicago to work as at attorney. She now works at Delta State University keeping track of state and federal grants.
One thing that has changed through the years is automation. The office first became automated in 1958. Today everything in the office is computerized.
If he was starting over again, Dabney would still choose to be a lawyer.
“Yes, definitely,” Dabney said. “What I like about the law is in order to do it right, it requires study and thought, both of which I enjoy. I also like to study history. And I like to study electronics.”
Someone practicing law at age 90 is unusual. So is the fact that Dabney still repairs automobiles. Recently he was changing out an alternator in the early-September Mississippi heat.
He has worked on vehicles since he bought first car in about 1940.
“My father let me buy what was left of 1929 Model A Ford,” Dabney said. “It puffed, smoked, rattled and shook. It had been run on more dirt roads than gravel roads. I started working on cars back then. My hobbies are automobiles and electronics. The reason I enjoyed electrical engineering is I was studying my hobby.”
Dabney has been married for 52 years to his wife, Allene. They have six children.
Dabney was a Mississippi State Bar Commissioner from 1975-1977 and president of the Warren County Bar Association in 1976-1977.
Larry Houchins, executive director of the Mississippi Bar Association, said Dabney is “a gentleman’s gentleman.”