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Shelby, John Todd

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Shelby, John Todd
March 14, 2007 10:19PM
History of Kentucky, five volumes, edited by Judge Charles Kerr,
American Historical Society, New York & Chicago, 1922, Vol. V, p. 3,
Fayette Co.

JOHN TODD SHELBY. Human life is like the waves of the sea; they
flash a few brief moments in the sunlight, marvels of power and beauty,
and then are dashed upon the remorseless shores of death and disappear
forever. The passing of any human life, however humble and unknown, is
sure to give rise to a pang of anguish in some heart, but when the "fell
destroyer" knocks at the door of the useful and great and removes from
earthly scenes the man of honor and influence and the benefactor of his
kind it means not only bereavement to kindred and friends, but a public
calamity as well.
In the largest and best sense of the term the late John Todd
Shelby, of Lexington, was distinctively one of the notable men of his
day and generation, and as such his life record is entitled to a
conspicuous place in the annals of the State of Kentucky. As a citizen,
he was public spirited and enterprising to an unwonted degree; as a
friend and neighbor, he combined the qualities of head and heart that
won confidence and commanded respect; as an attorney who had a
comprehensive grasp upon the philosophy of jurisprudence and brought
honor and dignity to the profession he followed with such distinguished
success, he was easily the peer of any of his brethren of the Kentucky
bar.
To refer to him as a lawyer in the phraseology which meets
requirements when dealing with the average member of the legal
profession would not do him justice. He was, indeed, much more than
eminently successful in his legal career, as was indicated by his long,
praiseworthy record at the bar. He was a master of his profession, a
leader among men distinguished for the high order of their legal
ability, and his eminent attainments and ripe judgment made him an
authority on all matters involving a profound knowledge of jurisprudence
and of vexed and intricate questions of equity practice. His life and
labors were worthy because they contributed to a proper understanding of
life and its problems.
John Todd Shelby, the only child of Thomas Hart Shelby and his
first wife, Frances Stuart Todd, was born in Springfield, Illinois, on
the 25th day of January, 1851, while his mother was on a visit to her
parents, Doctor and Mrs. John Todd, of that city, where they had located
in 1827, after migrating from Kentucky to Illinois ten years before,
Doctor Todd having been a surgeon with the Kentucky volunteers in the
War of 1812 and present at the battle and massacre of the River Raisin,
where he was captured. Mr. Shelby's mother, who was a granddaughter of
Gen. Levi Todd, one of the early settlers of Fayette County, whose son,
Robert S. Todd, was the father of Mary Todd, who married Abraham
Lincoln, died a week after his birth and he was brought to Kentucky,
where he grew to manhood at his father's home, "Bel Air," a beautiful
country seat in the Walnut Hill section of Fayette County.
His father, Thomas Hart Shelby, who at the time of his death in 1895 was
collector of United States internal revenue for the Seventh District of
Kentucky, was a grandson of Isaac Shelby, the first governor of Kentucky
and one of the heroes of the King's Mountain campaign and battle, often
referred to as the turning point of the Revolution in the South, in the
autumn of 1780. "And without venturing into any controversy respecting
this important event in the War of the Revolution and the history of our
country, it may be fairly said that he conceived the campaign and was
one of the main spirits in its prosecution to a successful
termination." There is no figure more familiar to the reader of
Kentucky history than Isaac Shelby, who, again chosen governor, after an
interim of many years, upon the commencement of hostilities with Great
Britain in 1812, is no less famed for his distinguished services in that
conflict than for his valor in the days of the Revolution, leading in
person the dauntless Kentucky volunteers on the battlefield of the
Thames, October 5, 1813, and winning for himself lasting renown by the
part he played in the achievement of the sweeping victory over Proctor
and Tecumseh, which resulted in the rout of the allied British and
Indians by the Americans under Gen. William Henry Harrison and the death
of Tecumseh, an event which practically marked the close of British and
Indian operations in the Northwest. Governor Shelby, who was a son of
Gen. Evan Shelby, also a Revolutionary soldier of note, and his wife,
Laetitia Cox, married Susanna Hart, daughter of the well-known Capt.
Nathaniel Hart, one of the first settlers of Kentucky and one of the
proprietors of the Colony of Transylvania. Thomas Hart Shelby, the
elder, son of Governor Isaac Shelby and grandfather of Mr. Shelby, owned
about 2,000 acres of the very best land in Fayette County, it being
located west of the Richmond and Lexington Turnpike and near Walnut Hill
Church.
Mr. Shelby's paternal grandmother was Mary Ann Bullock, daughter of
Edmund Bullock, the second speaker of the Kentucky House of
Representatives, whose wife was Elizabeth Fontaine, of Jefferson County,
while his maternal grandmother, Mrs. John Todd was before her marriage,
Elizabeth Fisher Blair Smith, a daughter of Rev. John Blair Smith, D.
D., one of the eminent Presbyterian divines of the eighteenth century,
who was the second president of Hampden-Sidney College, Virginia, and
later the first president of Union College at Schenectady, New York, and
who died in 1799 as pastor of the old Pine Street Church, Philadelphia.
Doctor Smith married Elizabeth Fisher Nash, of Prince Edward County,
Virginia. His brother, Rev. Samuel Stanhope Smith, D. D., was the first
president of Hampden-Sidney and afterwards president of Princeton
College.
Gen. Levi Todd, great-grandfather of Mr. Shelby, was a prominent
figure in the early military and civic annals of Kentucky, and a brother
of Col. John Todd and Gen. Robert Todd, both conspicuous in its early
history, the former having been killed at the battle of the Blue Licks
in 1782 and having theretofore been appointed colonel commandant and
county lieutenant of Illinois, with the civil powers of governor, upon
its erection as a county of Virginia in 1778. These three brothers were
nephews of Rev. John Todd, of Louisa County, Virginia, long a leading
spirit in Hanover Presbytery, who, deeply interested in the early
immigration to Kentucky, was, like Col. John Todd himself, one of those
most influential in obtaining endowment of Transylvania Seminary, and
who was instrumental in furnishing to that institution a library that
became the nucleus of the present invaluable library of Transylvania
University at Lexington.
Mr. Shelby's preliminary education was obtained principally in the
schools of Fayette County. In 1866-67 He was a student at Center
College, Danville, Kentucky and in 1867-8, attended Kentucky (now
Transylvania) University at Lexington. In the fall of 1868, he entered
Princeton, from which he was graduated with high honors, though one of
the youngest members of his class, in 1870, receiving the degree of
Bachelor of Arts. In 1873 Princeton conferred upon him the degree of
Master of Arts, and in 1904 the Agricultural and Mechanical College of
Kentucky (now the University of Kentucky) conferred upon him the degree
of Doctor of Laws.
After leaving college Mr. Shelby applied himself to the reading of
law under his uncle-in-law, Judge William B. Kinkead, of Fayette County,
and on March 2, 1872, was admitted to the bar at Lexington, during the
incumbency of Hon. Charles B. Thomas as a Circuit Judge. He entered the
office of Breckinridge and Buckner, at Lexington, a firm composed of
Col. William C. P. Breckinridge and Judge Benjamin F. Buckner, where he
practiced alone until he formed a partnership with Judge J. Soule Smith,
the style of the firm being Smith & Shelby, an association which lasted
until September 1, 1875, when he entered into partnership with Colonel
Breckinridge under the firm name of Breckinridge & Shelby, a relation
that continued unbroken until the death of Colonel Breckinridge on
November 19, 1904. Thereafter Mr. Shelby was alone in practice until
December 1, 1907, when with his son, John Craig Shelby, who had that
year graduated from the Harvard Law School, he formed the firm of Shelby
& Shelby. On July 1, 1910, R. L. Northcutt became a member of the firm,
the name of which was changed on December 1, 1913, to Shelby, Northcutt
& Shelby, and as thus constituted it continued until Mr. Shelby's
death. During his early practice he taught equity and pleading, and
somewhat later, pleading, evidence and practice in the Law College of
Kentucky (now Transylvania) University.
Mr. Shelby's active practice at the Fayette County bar covered a
period of forty-eight years, to the day, his death occurring at his home
in Lexington on March 2, 1920, after an illness of comparatively short
duration. His life was to a remarkable degree intertwined with the
history of Central Kentucky, and there is absolutely no question but
that he ranked with the greatest who have honored and adorned the legal
profession in Kentucky. During this period there were few notable cases
in which his services were not engaged and few public movements in which
he was not an influential factor.
Though a Presbyterian in early life, Mr. Shelby had been for nearly
twenty-seven years a communicant of Christ Church Cathedral at
Lexington, the oldest Protestant Episcopal parish in Kentucky, and
continuously during the same period an active member of the vestry,
being junior warden of the cathedral from 1903 until 1907, and senior
warden from 1907 up to the time of his death. He was a chancellor of
the Diocese of Lexington from 1898 until his death.
In politics he was originally a Democrat, but during the first
McKinley-Bryan campaign, in 1896, he changed his support to the
Republican party, with which he was afterwards affiliated. For three
years, from 1908 until 1910, during the administration of Governor
Augustus E. Wilson, he was the Republican member of the State Board of
Election Commissioners.
On November 7, 1872, in Christ Church, Saint Louis, Missouri, Mr.
Shelby married Miss Elizabeth Morris Brooking Craig, of that city, who
was born in Carroll County, Kentucky, near Ghent, and who had spent much
of her girlhood in the Walnut Hill neighborhood of Fayette County, near
Mr. Shelby's boyhood home. She was a daughter of Robert Edward Brooking
and his wife, Elizabeth Morris Craig, but was adopted in early childhood
by her maternal uncle, John Anderson Craig, whose name she thereafter
bore. To this union were born four children, Thomas Hart, Francis Todd,
John Craig and Christine, the second of whom died in infancy. Mrs.
Shelby died in Lexington in December 12, 1917, and their three children,
Thomas Hart, who married Mary Agnes Scott, of Jessamine County, John
Craig and Christine, and a grandson, John Todd Shelby, who married
Virginia Bernice Lindsey, of Roanoke, Virginia, and Lexington, son of
their son Thomas Hart, survive, residing at Lexington. Mr. Shelby is
also survived by his half-brothers, Thomas H. Shelby, of Lexington,
Wallace M. Shelby, of Fayette County, and Edmund B. Shelby, of
Charlotte, North Carolina, and his half-sisters, Mary C. Shelby, of
Lexington, Elizabeth S. Post, of Kingston, New York, Fanny S. Matthews,
of Lexington, Florence M. Shelby of Lexington, Alice S. Riddell of
Irvine, Rosa S. Richardson, of Lexington, Kate S. Scott of Lexington,
and Willie I. Shelby, of Charlotte, North Carolina, children of his
father's second marriage, to Florence McDowell. Another half-brother,
George S. Shelby, of Lexington, predeceased him.
In many ways Mr. Shelby had an important part in the development
of his section of Kentucky and was financially and otherwise interested
in a number of important enterprises. He was one of a group of citizens
who built the Belt Line Railroad, which afterwards passed under the
control of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company. He also helped to
organize the Belt Electric Line Company, the Central Electric Company
and the Hercules Ice Company, predecessors respectively, of the present
Lexington street railway system, electric lighting system and ice plant,
and was at one time president of the First National Bank of Lexington.
For a long time he was attorney for the Lexington Waterworks
Company and at the time of his death had for many years been counsel for
the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company. He was a director of the First
and City National Bank of Lexington, and of the Fayette Home Telephone
Company, attorney for both and one of the organizers of the latter. He
was also attorney for the Adams Express Company and the Southern Express
company. For over thirty-five years he had been attorney for the
Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company in Fayette and adjoining
counties and for many years attorney for the Southern Railway Company in
Kentucky. In his early practice he served as city attorney and later
was a member of the Board of Aldermen of the City of Lexington.
He was for many years a director of the Young Men's Christian
Association at Lexington, and served for many terms as vice-president of
the Kentucky Society Sons of the Revolution, and for one term was its
president. From 1890 until 1895 he was a member of the Board of
Commissioners of the Eastern Kentucky Lunatic Asylum at Lexington, and
from 1910 until 1913, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Lincoln
Institute of Kentucky at Simpsonville.
Probably no better review of Mr. Shelby's personal characteristics
and mental qualities could be written than was embodied in the splendid
tributes paid him in the press at the time of his death and also at a
memorial meeting of the Lexington Bar Association by those who had known
him long and intimately, as well as in resolutions adopted by various
bodies of which he was a member and from which excerpts are freely made
as follows:
"No lawyer of his generation stood higher in the estimation of this
bar than did the distinguished jurist whose passing we are this day
called upon to lament. For nearly fifty years past he has borne an
unsullied reputation as a leading exemplar of the highest civic virtues
as well as of the noblest ethics and traditions of the legal
profession. His abilities and his attainments were such as to excite
admiration and command respect from friend and foe alike. No lawyer in
any era of Kentucky's history has ever surpassed him in acuteness of
intellect, in clarity of thought, or in lucidity of expression. From
the beginning to the end of his busy career he met and mingled on equal
terms with those whom this bar and the bar of Kentucky generally have
accounted greatest in the profession of the law, and we can recall no
instance when he can fairly be said to have been overmatched. His
knowledge of the law was varied, accurate and profound, and his powers
of logical analysis in presenting any question or in advocating any
cause were at all times the despair of his adversaries as they were the
subject of enthusiastic and unqualified praise by his associates and
colleagues. * * "Be It Resolved, That in the death of
Honorable John Todd Shelby, this bar has suffered a grievous and
irreparable loss; that his long and honorable career has conferred
imperishable luster upon this bar, the consciousness of which is not
confined to this city and county, but is widely recognized throughout
our own and other states; that his eminence as a lawyer, his leadership
as a citizen, and his worth as a man are most keenly appreciated by
those of us who have enjoyed the privilege of daily contact and
association and personal acquaintance with him; that none know better
than ourselves or can better apprize his studious habits, his unflagging
industry, his large experience, and his absolute fidelity to his
profession, and none can more truthfully or more emphatically testify to
his sterling character, his liberal culture, his extraordinary legal
attainments, his public spirit, his unfaltering courage, his flawless
courtesy, and to that rare combination of qualities, both of mind and
temperament, which have stamped him as a shining example of the
Christian gentleman, the erudite scholar, the upright counselor, the
faithful advocate, and, above all, as the exemplary citizen; and that,
while none had a better right to boast of an illustrious ancestry, no
man who has ever graced the bench or bar of Kentucky had less occasion
or need to rely upon pride of birth or the blazon of lineage to justify
his title to distinction." - (From resolutions adopted at a meeting of
the Lexington Bar Association, held on March 4, 1920.)
"As an expounded of equity jurisprudence (referring to his teaching
in the Law School College of Kentucky, now Transylvania, University),
neither Yale nor Harvard, nor any other great university of our country,
could produce his superior. * * *
"I believe I can say in all sincerity that of all the lawyers with
whom I have been thrown in contact Mr. Shelby had no superior in
learning, in acuteness of intellect, and especially in splendid powers
of discriminating analysis. His arguments in this court were to my mind
models of legal argument. He was always courteous to the other side,
though maintaining his own position with firmness and force, never
letting go a proposition that he believed sound. We all know with what
great success he met in his practice. * * *
"Mr Shelby was tenacious of every opinion which he believed to be
valid, and presented it with an acuteness of intellect, a power of
logic, a lucidity of expression that very few in my memory or knowledge
equaled. Not only that, but, above all, Mr. Shelby was a Christian.
Form any years he had been connected with Christ Church, was senior
warden of the church, a member of the vestry for many years; and every
one who knew him in his daily life, in all his conduct, saw that there
ran through all his actions the faith that he had in his belief in the
precepts of the Christian religion. This bar has lost a great man,
modest and unpretentious as he was. I desire to pay this tribute of
respect for him, and of my profound reverence for his learning and
ability. To the younger members of the bar I can only say that they
could have no brighter example of all that is best in our profession
than the life and character of Mr. Shelby, and no young man could do
better than to follow, as far as he can, his footsteps and his example."
- (From remarks by Col. John R. Allen at the meeting of the Lexington
Bar Association.)
"He was a man who had the tenderest and most loving sympathy and
solicitude for his friends when they were in trouble or distress that I
have ever known. His simple, childlike, unwavering faith in the
efficacy of the redeeming blood of the crucified Christ was the most
beautiful thing I have ever seen. My talks with him along this line,
his abiding hope, his confident expectation to meet and be reunited with
the loved ones that had gone on before gave me stronger hope and belief
in a future existence and a happier state for man than all the sermons
of all preachers I have ever heard." - (From remarks by Hon. W. C. G.
Hobbes)
"Measured by all of the standards of human excellence, he was a
well-rounded and unusual man. All of us, I trust, possess in some
degree his great qualities of mind and heart, as exemplified in his
long, active and useful life. But without intending to deprecate the
ability and character of this bar, it may be safely said that no one of
its living members possesses in the same high degree all of his great
qualities." - (From remarks by Hon. W. P. Kimball.)
"I cannot realize that from this stand I shall never again call
from your number the name of John Todd Shelby; that I can never again
ask his counsel or advice; that I can never again counsel with him
concerning the things that are nearest and dearest to me. I might,
indeed, say of him as Horace, the old Latin poet, said of his friend
Varus, `He was modest, true, just; he is mourned by all good men, and
who is there to take his place?"
"The silver cord has indeed been loosed, the golden bowl been
broken. I know, except for the memories the sweet associations of
thirty-six years, that he has gone forever out of a life into which he
came at its most critical period. Without education, without
experience, with nothing to recommend me to the consideration of one who
possessed all the graces which education and culture supply, I went into
his office and introduced myself to him and his partner, Colonel
Breckinridge, and asked them if they would lend me some law books. From
that moment until the very last conversation I had with him, only last
week, there was never a time when I did not feel that I could go to him
with anything that troubled me, that I could ask from him advice upon
any subject, and never did I go when he did not receive me kindly,
courteously, sweetly. In all the vicissitudes through which I have
passed, many of which have been purely personal, I always received just
that encouragement I needed, that sympathy I craved. I might say, too,
on those occasions when he knew I was perplexed, that I was bearing some
undisclosed burden, he has, with gentle, sweet concern, sought me. This
to me is one of the most perfect forms of true, enduring friendship." -
(From remarks by Judge Charles Kerr.)
"A Christian without reproach, a gentleman without fear, a
Kentuckian of Kentuckians, John T. Shelby typified the loftiest
traditions, exemplified the noblest aspirations of his people.
"A lawyer who met as equal the greatest of his generation, whose
mind entitled him to be ranked in the first flight of the great lawyers
of the State, whose erudition made him the cherished companion of the
most learned, John Shelby was greater as a man than as a lawyer or
scholar. With the utter courage of absolute honesty he had the
gentleness of a woman; with the transparent veracity that is the
companion of perfect fearlessness, he never had thought, even of
expressing a harsh or bitter word. Only those privileged to be admitted
to his intimacy could have full appreciation of the combined elements of
strength and gentleness, of courage and kindliness, of duty and
generosity, that made him long since aptly and justly described as the
`First Gentleman of Kentucky.'
"Simple of life, forgetful of self, he never sought nor desired
place or power, nor would accept public position. He would have graced
and have lent distinction to the Supreme Court, for which he was most
eminently fitted, to which he might have been appointed had he but
indicated his desire to have a position thereon tendered to him.
"From early manhood he carried with never flickering courage and
ever present cheerfulness burdens that would have crushed a weaker man.
Frail of body, his mind worked with unceasing and never flagging
industry. But there was no labor so great, no bodily frailty so
poignant that could dim his sense of humor or cloud his wit. No grief,
it mattered not how desperately it wrung his heart, could make him lose
mastery of himself." - (From editorial by Desha Breckinridge in the
Lexington Herald of March 3, 1920.)
"Man may approach the perfect but he cannot attain it. And yet the
late John T. Shelby did not fail in any of the essentials which bring us
within an appreciable nearness of the ideal. His antecedents, his
rearing, his education, his innate sense of refinement and culture, all
lent their influence in producing the completed whole. His ancestry
carried him back to a generation that was conspicuous in laying the
foundation of the State; in overcoming the vicissitudes of a frontier
community; in establishing homes for their descendants, and founding a
stable society. Whatever profession he might have chosen, he would have
adorned; whatever pursuit might have won his endeavors, he would have
been recognized among its leaders. The legal profession was congenial
to one of his inquiring mind. Reason and logic were to him the
coefficients of truth, and no matter where truth led he followed it with
relentless exactitude. He reduced every proposition to a syllogism.
His conclusions were reached through a deductive rather than through an
inductive process of reasoning. When his advice was sought he reasoned
from the facts presented to a determination that was nas accurate as a
problem in Euclid. His was not a mind that could predetermine what a
result ought to be and then construct a theory that would reach the end
desired. The final determination with him came as the result of laying
his premises in truth. In nothing did he seem to delight more than an a
priori (italics) argument. Given the antecedent, he reached the
consequent with a skill and lucidity that baffled his most astute
adversaries. So clear was he in statement that nothing was left for
argument. * * .
"Every branch of the law yielded at his approach, but in pleading
and equity jurisprudence he had no superior among the lawyers of
Kentucky. With him pleading was a science. As such he studied it, as
such he practiced it. Had he lived in the days of Chitty and Mansfield
he would have been, par excellence (italics), one of the most skillful
among the English pleaders. For an ill-prepared and loosely-drawn
pleading he had a repugnance that amounted almost to a contempt. He
delighted to parry in this branch of the profession with one that was
worthy of his own skill. Simple, quiet, unobtrusive, many an adversary
was forced to suffer all the torments of that discomfiture that comes
from lack of skill or preparation, when he stood before the bar with him
as opponent. * * *
"With him equity was that branch of the law which supplied all the
deficiencies of the common law. It was a system of common justice as
well as common morals. He did not believe there could be a wrong
without a remedy. Any system for the adjustment of human relationship
that did not accept this as a truism was inherently defective. His
innate sense of justice was, therefore, naturally and irresistibly drawn
towards that branch of the profession which was founded on the spirit
rather than the letter of the law. * * *
But whether he followed the letter or the spirit, it was justice, in the
end, that determined his course. One of the last acts of his
professional life was to refuse participation in an action which he
conceived to be wrong and wholly lacking in moral substance.
"And thus it was he approach the ideal, not alone in character, not
alone in being the Shakespearian possessor of all those attributes that
unite in making a man, but in the ethics and practice of his profession,
as man, but in the ethics and practice of his profession, as well. Of
him it might be said, as it was said of another distinguished member of
the Lexington bar, `He was a man before whom temptation fled.' So high
was his sense of honor, so correct the standards which he had erected
for his own conduct, that he never had to combat those seductive
influences to which so many of the profession have fallen victims. He
was the embodiment of the best traditions of the bar. He personified a
type that is passing. As Horace said of Varus, there is no one to take
his place. He ennobled a profession that could not ennoble him. His
was a nobility begotten of Nature." - (From an appreciation by Judge
Charles Kerr in the Lexington Herald of March 7, 1920.)
"He was a director of this company from its organization to the
date of his death, was its vice-president and general counsel, and in
all those capacities he served it with that intelligence, wisdom and
fidelity which characterized his performance of every duty.
"Those who knew him best loved him most, and we are grateful for
the privilege of association with him for so many years. We feel that
any attempt on our part to eulogize him would be - to use a phrase which
he frequently employed with reference to others - an effort to `paint
the lily': and yet we cannot forbear to record our admiration for the
gentleness purity of his life, for the unfailing courtesy and
consideration for others which was as much a habit with him as
breathing, for the strength and elevation of his character, for the
uprightness and nobility of his conduct. The clearness of his
intellect, the vigor of his reason, were not more remarkable than the
directness and disinterestedness of his action. His lofty ideals were
not marred by inconsistence of conduct. He ad the faith of Lincoln that
might makes right' he sought the truth, and having found it, he dared to
follow where it led. With the gentleness of a woman he combined the
courage of a lion, and being true to himself, could not be false to any
man." - (From resolutions adopted by the Directors of the Fayette Home
Telephone Company.)
"A man of unusual mental ability, of the highest sense of honor, of
keen appreciation of the service Christian character, he brought to the
discharge of every duty a determination to give his very best efforts.
His counsels were wise, his judgment sound, and his integrity above
reproach. In the death of John T. Shelby this community has lost one of
its best citizens, this bank a wise and safe counselor, his church a
Christian gentleman, and his friends one of their Choicest spirits." -
(From resolutions adopted by the Directors of the First and City Nation
Ban, of Lexington.)
"As a man, he was gifted highly trained, of incorruptible
integrity; as counselor and adviser, clear-visioned and wise; as a
friend, loyal and true; as a Christian without reproach, a gentleman
without fear, a Kentuckian of Kentuckians, John T. Shelby typified the
loftiest traditions, exemplified the noblest aspirations of his people.
"A lawyer who met as equal the greatest of his generation, whose
mind entitled him to be ranked in the first flight of the great lawyers
of the State, whose erudition made him the cherished companion of the
most learned, John Shelby was greater as a man than as a lawyer or
scholar. With the utter courage of absolute honesty he had the
gentleness of a woman; with the transparent veracity that is the
companion of perfect fearlessness, he never had thought, even of
expressing a harsh or bitter word. Only those privileged to be admitted
to his intimacy could have full appreciation of the combined elements of
strength and gentleness, of courage and kindliness, of duty and
generosity, that made him long since aptly and justly described as the
`First Gentleman of Kentucky.'
"Simple of life, forgetful of self, he never sought nor desired
place or power, nor would accept public position. He would have graced
and have lent distinction to the Supreme Court, for which he was most
eminently fitted, to which he might have been appointed had he but
indicated his desire to have a position thereon tendered to him.
"From early manhood he carried with never flickering courage and
ever present cheerfulness burdens that would have crushed a weaker man.
Frail of body, his mind worked with unceasing and never flagging
industry. But there was no labor so great, no bodily frailty so
poignant that could dim his sense of humor or cloud his wit. No grief,
it mattered not how desperately it wrung his heart, could make him lose
mastery of himself." - (From editorial by Desha Breckinridge in the
Lexington Herald of March 3, 1920.)
"Man may approach the perfect but he cannot attain it. And yet the
late John T. Shelby did not fail in any of the essentials which bring us
within an appreciable nearness of the ideal. His antecedents, his
rearing, his education, his innate sense of refinement and culture, all
lent their influence in producing the completed whole. His ancestry
carried him back to a generation that was conspicuous in laying the
foundation of the State; in overcoming the vicissitudes of a frontier
community; in establishing homes for their descendants, and founding a
stable society. Whatever profession he might have chosen, he would have
adorned; whatever pursuit might have won his endeavors, he would have
been recognized among its leaders. The legal profession was congenial
to one of his inquiring mind. Reason and logic were to him the
coefficients of truth, and no matter where truth led he followed it with
relentless exactitude. He reduced every proposition to a syllogism.
His conclusions were reached through a deductive rather than through an
inductive process of reasoning. When his advice was sought he reasoned
from the facts presented to a determination that was nas accurate as a
problem in Euclid. His was not a mind that could predetermine what a
result ought to be and then construct a theory that would reach the end
desired. The final determination with him came as the result of laying
his premises in truth. In nothing did he seem to delight more than an a
priori (italics) argument. Given the antecedent, he reached the
consequent with a skill and lucidity that baffled his most astute
adversaries. So clear was he in statement that nothing was left for
argument. * * .
"Every branch of the law yielded at his approach, but in pleading
and equity jurisprudence he had no superior among the lawyers of
Kentucky. With him pleading was a science. As such he studied it, as
such he practiced it. Had he lived in the days of Chitty and Mansfield
he would have been, par excellence (italics), one of the most skillful
among the English pleaders. For an ill-prepared and loosely-drawn
pleading he had a repugnance that amounted almost to a contempt. He
delighted to parry in this branch of the profession with one that was
worthy of his own skill. Simple, quiet, unobtrusive, many an adversary
was forced to suffer all the torments of that discomfiture that comes
from lack of skill or preparation, when he stood before the bar with him
as opponent. * * *
"With him equity was that branch of the law which supplied all the
deficiencies of the common law. It was a system of common justice as
well as common morals. He did not believe there could be a wrong
without a remedy. Any system for the adjustment of human relationship
that did not accept this as a truism was inherently defective. His
innate sense of justice was, therefore, naturally and irresistibly drawn
towards that branch of the profession which was founded on the spirit
rather than the letter of the law. * * *
But whether he followed the letter or the spirit, it was justice, in the
end, that determined his course. One of the last acts of his
professional life was to refuse participation in an action which he
conceived to be wrong and wholly lacking in moral substance.
"And thus it was he approach the ideal, not alone in character, not
alone in being the Shakespearian possessor of all those attributes that
unite in making a man, but in the ethics and practice of his profession,
as man, but in the ethics and practice of his profession, as well. Of
him it might be said, as it was said of another distinguished member of
the Lexington bar, `He was a man before whom temptation fled.' So high
was his sense of honor, so correct the standards which he had erected
for his own conduct, that he never had to combat those seductive
influences to which so many of the profession have fallen victims. He
was the embodiment of the best traditions of the bar. He personified a
type that is passing. As Horace said of Varus, there is no one to take
his place. He ennobled a profession that could not ennoble him. His
was a nobility begotten of Nature." - (From an appreciation by Judge
Charles Kerr in the Lexington Herald of March 7, 1920.)
"He was a director of this company from its organization to the
date of his death, was its vice-president and general counsel, and in
all those capacities he served it with that intelligence, wisdom and
fidelity which characterized his performance of every duty.
"Those who knew him best loved him most, and we are grateful for
the privilege of association with him for so many years. We feel that
any attempt on our part to eulogize him would be - to use a phrase which
he frequently employed with reference to others - an effort to `paint
the lily': and yet we cannot forbear to record our admiration for the
gentleness purity of his life, for the unfailing courtesy and
consideration for others which was as much a habit with him as
breathing, for the strength and elevation of his character, for the
uprightness and nobility of his conduct. The clearness of his
intellect, the vigor of his reason, were not more remarkable than the
directness and disinterestedness of his action. His lofty ideals were
not marred by inconsistence of conduct. He ad the faith of Lincoln that
might makes right' he sought the truth, and having found it, he dared to
follow where it led. With the gentleness of a woman he combined the
courage of a lion, and being true to himself, could not be false to any
man." - (From resolutions adopted by the Directors of the Fayette Home
Telephone Company.)
"A man of unusual mental ability, of the highest sense of honor, of
keen appreciation of the service Christian character, he brought to the
discharge of every duty a determination to give his very best efforts.
His counsels were wise, his judgment sound, and his integrity above
reproach. In the death of John T. Shelby this community has lost one of
its best citizens, this bank a wise and safe counselor, his church a
Christian gentleman, and his friends one of their Choicest spirits." -
(From resolutions adopted by the Directors of the First and City Nation
Ban, of Lexington.)
"As a man, he was gifted highly trained, of incorruptible
integrity; as counselor and adviser, clear-visioned and wise; as a
friend, loyal and true; as a Christian, humble, devout and consistent.
We honored him, we loved him, we shall miss him sorely. The Church is
better because he lived and worked in it. It is poorer now because he
has gone from us. While our sense of bereavement is so fresh and vivid,
we shall not attempt to make a balanced estimate of his life and work,
or pay complete and fitting tribute to his character. We would only
express our thankfulness to God for what Mr. Shelby was and for what he
did among us, and our sense of bereavement in his loss." - (From
resolutions adopted by the Vestry of Christ Church Cathedral,
Lexington.)

Bullock Cox Fontaine Matthews McDowell Nash Post Richardson Riddell
Scott Shelby Smith Todd
=
Carroll-KY Jefferson-KY IL PA VA

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