When I met Henry Gilchrist he was in his mid-seventies. Those of us that came along in those days weren’t around when he was doing deals for Texas oil man Clint Murchison; or as he conceived and structured a unique funding deal to create Texas Stadium; or while he was point person on high profile issues for the Dallas Cowboys.
But no matter the time or place, anyone privileged to work with Mr. Gilchrist knew they were dealing with a consummate professional.
His reputation as a corporate lawyer preceded him. But the characteristic that made him a rare breed of professional was the way he treated a person. Any person. Partner. First year associate. Secretary. Or member of the staff.
Henry Gilchrist passed away Saturday, May 6 at the age of 92…just eight months after he finally retired.
There are scores of stories that underscore the humanity of this gentle lion. One of my favorites was told to me during an interview with Roger Hayse, who worked with Mr. Gilchrist for more than 25 years at the law firm of Jenkens & Gilchrist.
As the business manager and financial officer of the firm, Roger was made aware that the firm’s honor-system approach to a snack closet was, in short, getting ripped off — falling short of collecting the appropriate sum for chips, candy and the like. Upon closer examination, Roger detected that enormous amounts of chewing gum were being scarfed up at an impossible pace.
In order to put a stop to the gum-thief, Roger planned to lock the heretofore unlocked closet, forcing anyone wanting a snack to request the key and handle payment with an assistant.
It was during a meeting with Mr. Gilchrist, as Roger proudly outlined his plan to put an end to this chewing gum expense, that he came face-to-face with the priorities of Henry Gilchrist.
“Roger, that sounds as it it will solve the issue of employees taking snacks without paying. But I want you to let me know the day the lock is on that closet; that will be my last day with this law firm. I will not be part of a firm that tells its employees they are not trusted.”
People were drawn to Henry Gilchrist — corporate giants, entrepreneurs, and your average run-of-the-mill guy in marketing. Being a great lawyer was part of the equation, for sure. Having his name on the letterhead opened doors, no doubt.
But Henry Gilchrist never lost sight of the value of an individual. He quietly helped and encouraged wherever he saw the opportunity. In victory as well as in difficult hours his humility was palpable. And he treated everyone he met with respect and dignity.
This is the stuff of the consummate professional.
Rest In Peace, Henry. Your influence lives on.