May 2016
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It's a Wonderful Life

Demopolis attorney Tom Boggs spends part of his days in his firm’s extensive law library.  

Demopolis attorney and farmer Tom Boggs believes the best is yet to come.

Tom Boggs has never been one to focus on a single profession or project because he’s too busy, too inquisitive to see what’s around the corner.

At the age of 76, he’s still a busy lawyer, operates a farm, is a retired Green Beret officer, writes columns for two west Alabama newspapers, once was a Boy Scout official, attends two churches, teaches Sunday school and is a soloist in the choir at one of them.

"I’m also a pretty fair baritone if I might add," said Boggs, who, at the moment, is recovering from prostate cancer surgery and is confident it’s just a minor bump along life’s busy highway.

He hasn’t been down in the dumps over his physical situation because, once that’s been resolved, he’s got work to do at his farm where the cattle depend on him, fences need his attention and, of course, he’s got court cases to handle.

All of that for a man who wasn’t expected to make it at birth and surprised even his doctors after his slap-on-the-butt wake-up call.

Born at a Selma hospital where his weight barely registered on the lower end of the scale, he was all but given up on. One of the doctors on call worked to save his mother. The other one refused to give up and kept at it through the night, determined to save the baby boy.

Mother and child eventually made it and Thomas H. Boggs Jr. – given up as a goner at one point – just kept growing and matured into a prominent citizen known throughout Alabama.

"I amazed everyone by surviving," Boggs recalled. "When I was 16, weighed 170 pounds and played football for my high school team, I wrote my doctor a letter thanking him for pulling me through."

After high school, Boggs spent two years at what then was Livingston State College and now is the University of West Alabama. He eventually dropped out to go to work at a paper mill to make enough to pay for his tuition and other expenses.

The year was 1961 and the Berlin Crisis had Boggs in khakis with the Alabama National Guard. His good luck continued when the GI Bill was approved and helped him take care of his college concerns.

The Guard would become his second home and he rose in the ranks as few have done through the years – going from private to full colonel during a 37-year career in the military.

"I was considered for general, but, it didn’t happen," Boggs said. "That was OK, though, since I had a busy law practice to contend with."

During his long military career, Boggs became proficient in many fields, but excelled in jumping out of airplanes. He became a Green Beret officer making over 300 jumps and continued doing it until later in his career.

  Tom Boggs with his grandchildren on an old-fashioned stile at Boxwood II, a favorite gathering place for family, friends, high school teammates, military buddies and church groups. First row, left to right, William Boggs, Jackson Boggs, Josh Boggs and Tom; middle, Caroline Harpe, being held by Sara Beth Boggs; and, top, Cooper Boggs.

Farming and the military have been important to the Boggs family. His dad served in World War II, owned a few acres and divided his time between it and his law practice.

Boggs looks forward to working on the family farm not far from his law office in Demopolis. With wife, Alice, by his side, helping as an equal partner, the two spend as much time as possible doing what’s needed.

He views farming as a "blessing and a stress reliever" after a full day at his law office. Now that daylight saving time has arrived, they have more time at the farm, only 10 minutes from his office.

They have 28 brood cows, at least that many calves and two bulls – one named Bryant and the other Nick. They add up to a busy farming operation.

Boggs couldn’t resist naming one of his brood cows Monica Lewinsky, the one-time White House intern whose sexual dalliances with then President Bill Clinton ended up with his impeachment, the loss of his law license and national disgrace.

Monica the cow "sure loved the bulls," Boggs explained. "She was very promiscuous and had at least 15 calves. I finally had to get rid of her."

When he’s not minding his livestock and mending fences, he finds other ways to keep the farm going. It’s basically a one-man operation, but he has Alice by his side throughout the day sharing agricultural duties with him.

"Nobody works for me," Boggs said. "I do it by myself, with Alice’s help, of course. In the winter, I’m at the farm before dark putting out the hay. Then I’m up early in the morning to do my chores so I can be at my law office by 7:30."

He’s been at it for the past 15 years and handles a lot of the basic things required at a cattle operation including inoculating and, at times, helping to deliver a calf if needed.

As if that’s not enough, he also finds time to bang out a column for two weekly newspapers in Marengo County. That serves as another stress reliever because it gives him a chance to write about living in a great country and enjoying all the freedom and other good things that go with it.

By his own calculation, he’s written more than 1,000 columns for Democrat-Reporter’s owner Goodloe Sutton in Linden. "Days Gone Bye" is the title of his columns and he makes them as local as possible.

He tries his best to keep his columns upbeat, but, at times, he delves into real-life situations such as his bout with prostate cancer.

"Every week for a heap of years as I have written this column, I realize more and more just how amazing living really has been, is now and I figure the best is yet to come," he said in a recent column.

"It is a marvelous thing to know and believe that right now as I am surrounded by scores of friends and family who raise me up in prayer, being a little surprised that a little illness has finally caught up with me after 76 years."

He ended that paragraph with "because of faith, good humor and those scores of folks, it won’t do me in for sure."

Boggs and Sutton grew up together and have enjoyed the aggressive give and take of their relationship – both are independent-minded men who aren’t above some gentle ribbing.

"Tom grew up being arrogant and boisterous and wanting to fight anybody anytime," Sutton said. "He loved the military and loves the South."

Boggs’s salary is made to order for Sutton because it’s zero. The publisher believes that Boggs’s audience is more than enough to keep readers buying the weekly paper.

In addition to being a senior partner of his Demopolis law firm, Boggs is an elder and lay preacher at Faunsdale Presbyterian Church. He’s also on call to speak at military events.

Among Boggs’s many friends is Sumter County veterinarian Ted Vaughan, who aptly describes Boggs as a man who is a patriot and values the importance of keeping a promise.

"Tom reminds us of the values our parents held so high," Vaughan stated. "He believes in a handshake being your bond. No written contract is needed as far as he’s concerned."

One of Boggs’s most recent columns mentioned mortality factors and his own situation, but ended with the title of one of his favorite films, "It’s A Wonderful Life." That’s how he views his own.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.