It’s no exaggeration to call Clare Sekul Hornsby a legend in her own time. The lively Biloxi attorney has been practicing law 66 years and continues a full daily schedule as president of the Sekul, Hornsby & Tisdale firm.
“I have no reason to cut back,” she said. “I love the law, and I’m grateful for every day. I’m blessed and I know it.”
Her parents emigrated from Yugoslavia to Biloxi where they owned a grocery store in the Point Cadet area. Hornsby was born in 1922, the youngest of their seven children. The family was active in the Catholic Church and the Slovenian Lodge where Hornsby reigned as Miss Yugoslavia in 1938. She’s still involved in the lodge which rebuilt what she terms ‘a masterpiece’ after its destruction in Hurricane Katrina. It’s the third building for the organization.
“My parents told me I would be a lawyer, and in those days you did what your parents told you,” she recalls. “They were impressed with the federal judge they met when they became citizens. For them, next to the ministry law was considered the highest calling anyone could have.”
All the Sekul children went to Catholic school in Biloxi. After high school graduation, Hornsby made the long journey to Oxford to attend the University of Mississippi and earn bachelor’s and juris doctorate degrees, graduating in 1945. Her law school roommate was Evelyn Gandy, who later served as state treasurer and lieutenant governor. They were two of only four women in law school at that time.
“We did not encounter any problems as women in law school, and we were respected,” she said. “We didn’t do anything but study.”
Unlike Gandy, who blazed a trail for women in politics in Mississippi, Hornsby never had any interest in running for office, saying it was not her cup of tea.
After graduation, she returned to Biloxi and went into solo practice. Unlike other local lawyers, the savvy Hornsby stayed open Saturday mornings. “When someone came looking for a lawyer, I was there,” she said.
However, she later joined with brother John Sekul to establish a firm and through the years has practiced with many lawyers. “Plenty, plenty of lawyers started with me,” she said. “I could have a roll call of those who started with me.”
In the early days Hornsby did a lot of criminal work. Several sensational murder cases stand out in her memories, especially two involving young people. Through the years she gravitated to family law, which is her area of practice now. She was appointed a master in the Chancery Court of the 2nd Judicial District of Harrison County to hear uncontested cases.
“I’ve loved every minute of it; it’s been fulfilling knowing I could be there for somebody and could make a difference,” she said. “I probably did more adoptions than anyone in the state for a while. Back then women didn’t have babies out of wedlock.”
Hornsby was the first woman president of the Harrison County Bar Association and continues to serve as president of the Biloxi Bar Association. Reminded that she’s often called “Queen of the Biloxi Bar,” she quipped, “I’ve been called everything under the sun!”
Her grandson, W. Fred Hornsby III, followed her into the legal profession. “She’s fantastic. When I leave her presence, I feel good, uplifted,” he said of her. “That’s very telling about her mentality and outlook on life.”
Because he was reared in a house next door to his grandmother’s law office, he was in that office quite a bit. “She influenced me to enter law with her actions, not her words,” he said. “I had unfettered access to her and Uncle Johnny Sekul, so at eight years old, I started thinking about becoming a lawyer.”
He is in the firm of Hornsby Watts down the street from his grandmother’s office. “I could never compete with her because I love her too much and because I could never beat her. She has too much knowledge of law,” he said. “She is one of the best at the practice of law, but not the business of law because she does so much for free for people.”
Hornsby met her husband, Warren Hornsby, when he was stationed on the Coast with the Merchant Marines in the 1940s. They have four children, nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren. Family is very important to Hornsby who continues a Saturday breakfast tradition she started many years ago. “Every Saturday morning I take family and friends to breakfast and family members can bring their friends,” she said. “Last Saturday we had 22.”
In addition to professional organizations, she is active in a number of non-profit groups, including the Biloxi Lions Club, which she’s served as program chairman for 20 years, and is a devoted parishioner of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church.
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