A.W. Birdsong, Jr., 1977-1998
Chief Judge: 1987-1988
Judge A. W. "Buck" Birdsong, Jr. was born on January 30, 1925 in LaGrange, Troup County, Georgia to A. W. Birdsong, Sr. and Bessie Viola Cofield Birdsong. Judge Birdsong's family first settled in Troup County in 1826, and he kept his home there all his life.
Judge Birdsong graduated from LaGrange High School in 1942, and attended Marion Military Institute, Georgia Military Academy and the United States Military Academy at West Point. This military training served as the foundation for his 39 months of service as a sergeant in the U. S. Army combat engineers.
Judge Birdsong returned to Georgia for his legal education, receiving his L.L.B. from the University of Georgia in 1951. During law school, he served as Chief Justice of the Phi Alpha Delta legal fraternity, was a member of the Honor Court and joined the Phi Delta Theta social fraternity. Judge Birdsong also taught History and Business Law at the University of Georgia Off-Campus Division at Ft. Benning, Georgia from 1952-1954.
Judge Birdsong went home to practice law, forming the firm of Richter & Birdsong in 1955. In his 26 years of practice, Judge Birdsong earned a reputation as a talented and successful trial attorney. Although he specialized in insurance defense work, he handled a variety of cases, from pro bono criminal cases to complicated civil matters. In the early 1970's, Judge Birdsong had a string of notable successes representing local landowners opposing the condemnation values placed on their property during the construction of West Point Lake.
At the age of 33, Judge Birdsong became the youngest juvenile court judge in Georgia when he was appointed to the Troup County Juvenile Court in 1958 by Superior Court Judge Samuel Jefferson Boykin. He continued to hold that position until 1976, and during that period refused any raise in pay, asking that the money instead be used to pay and hire probation officers. He also instituted a program using college students as part time probation officers, the first of such programs in the state.
Judge Birdsong's youngest daughter recently noted that he took his personal motto from the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle: "Sic vos non vobis." This phrase is translated, "Not for ourselves, but others." Judge Birdsong exemplified this motto not only in his professional life, but also through his numerous civic commitments. He was a long-time member of the First Baptist Church of LaGrange where he served as the chairman of the board of deacons. He was a past president of both the LaGrange Lions Club and LaGrange Jaycees and a member of both the Moose and Elks Clubs. In addition to serving as a member of the Downtown Development Authority of LaGrange, he was a chairman on the board of stockholders of the Highland Country Club and also served as attorney and organizer for the Chattahoochee Art Association. Additionally, Judge Birdsong served as trustee for Tift College and Camp Viola, Inc.
Judge Birdsong was also a former chairman of the Democratic Committee of Troup County. He was one of the co-founders of the LaGrange Development Authority, the LaGrange Academy and the Peoples Bank of LaGrange (later Trust Company Bank of Troup County, where he served as Chairman of the Board of Directors). He also served on the Board of Directors for SunTrust (Columbus) Georgia.
Judge Birdsong's tradition of service continued when in 1977 he left a successful and lucrative trial practice to join the Court of Appeals of Georgia. He was appointed by Governor George Busbee to fill the vacancy left when Justice Thomas O. Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court of Georgia. Judge Birdsong held his position on the Court for 21 years, serving two tenures as Presiding Judge, from 1984 to 1986 and from 1990 to 1998. He also served as Chief Judge of the Court from 1987-1988.
Potter Stewart once described the most important judicial traits as "quality and competence and temperament and character and diligence." Judge Birdsong had all of these. He was one of the strongest and most effective judges on the Court of Appeals. He was firm in his opinions and could express himself clearly and forcefully in trying to persuade others to his viewpoint. But his strong personality and his firm beliefs were combined with an engaging manner that allowed him to serve as conciliator when needed. Moreover, his strong beliefs did not make him inflexible. He could always see the other person's point of view, even if he did not agree with it. And in the face of well-researched and well-reasoned legal arguments contrary to his position, he could be persuaded to change his view of a case. Judge Birdsong also was a diligent worker, with a rigorous sense of discipline, honed during his years of military training. All of these qualities are important in any judge, but they were invaluable in getting things done on a busy, multi-judge court like the Court of Appeals of Georgia.
During his tenure on the Court, Judge Birdsong served as a member of the American Bar Association's Committee on Continuing Appellate Education and as chairman of the Institute for Continuing Judicial Education. In these positions, Judge Birdsong helped develop educational programs used by appellate judges throughout the nation. In addition, he was a member of the Judicial Council and a chairman of the Appellate Settlement Conference Committee.
Judge Birdsong's numerous professional and academic affiliations included the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Georgia, Troup County Bar Association (past president), the Coweta Bar Association (past president), the American Judicature Society, the Fellows of the American Bar, the Georgia Bar Foundation, Lawyers Club of Atlanta, Old Warhorse Lawyers Club, West Point Society of Atlanta, and the Gridiron Secret Society:
Judge Birdsong announced his retirement from the bench just a few months before his death on June 6, 1998. He planned to return to LaGrange and become of counsel to his old law firm, now Richter, Birdsong, Willis & Keeble, P.C. He wanted to keep his hand in the legal field, working part-time without pay to give him a flexible schedule. But his primary focus was to be on his two great personal passions: his family and golf.
In light of Judge Birdsong's full and successful professional, civic and private life, it is only fitting that the State Bar chose to honor him with the 1998 Tradition of Excellence Award. It is of some comfort to his friends and colleagues to know that Judge Birdsong knew of this final honor before his death.
234 Georgia Appeals Reports