Just some of the words to describe the late Chief Justice P. Harris Hines.
Marietta and the state of Georgia said goodbye to one of the finest leaders this community has known on Tuesday.
The qualities for which the late Chief Justice Hines was celebrated — his joy in working hard and his compassion, justice and kindness — were learned at an early age. It was his parents, he once told the MDJ, who taught him as a boy that while he wasn’t better than anyone else, no one was better than him either, and that those lucky enough to have some economic advantages in life held a responsibility to help others. Ask anyone what they thought about Hines and they will tell you he treated everyone with kindness and respect, no matter their station in life.
This is uncommon, for while many share some of the intrinsic qualities that carried Hines to the pinnacle of his field, treating everyone with kindness while dispensing justice from the mountaintop is not a universal practice.
The lesson in hard work was learned from the legendary Erk Russell, who coached Hines in baseball at Grady High School before Russell became defensive coordinator for the Georgia Bulldogs. Hines loved to share the story of how, walking up to bat in Candler Park as a 14-year-old in a B-team baseball game, Russell called him aside.
“He says, ‘Harris, I know they always say that you ought to be relaxed and laid back when you’re playing.’ He says, ‘I always thought I did better when I was bearing down.’”
Bear down he did, earning a law degree from Emory University in 1965 before joining the Marietta law firm of Edwards, Bentley, Awtrey & Parker. Hines’ passion for the law, Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin once said, “just hits you in the face every time you talk to him.”
It was on the campaign trail in 1974 where he came to know two other Cobb County and Georgia leaders.
Johnny Isakson was campaigning for a seat on the Cobb Board of Commissioners while Roy Barnes was running for the Georgia Senate. Hines, who had recently been appointed to the State Court of Cobb County by then-Gov. Jimmy Carter, was running to retain that office. The trio would remain lifelong friends. Isakson would reach the U.S. Senate, Barnes later became Georgia’s governor, and Hines would be named chief justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia in 2016. He retired from the state’s highest court in August.
Barnes and Isakson concur that no one ever had a bad thing to say about their friend, an almost unheard-of accomplishment for one who’d served in the public arena for as long as Hines did. Tributes at his funeral Tuesday at First Presbyterian Church were as glowing as they were deserved. Among those eulogizing Hines were Gov. Nathan Deal, Chief Justice Harold Melton, his son, Hap Hines and Senior Pastor Joe Evans. Deal and Melton welled tears during their tributes, overcome with the grief shared by so many.
The country continues to be a nation of laws and not of men as the founders envisioned, Deal said, “but from time to time we are blessed with men of great wisdom, courage and character who build upon that foundation and reinforce it. Justice Hines was just such a man.”
He added, “justice in our state is now more equitable and more secure and has been rendered more efficiently … because Harris championed all of these things.”
Rev. Evans touched on what was so likable about Hines, saying that so many in the packed sanctuary were there to pay tribute, not because of the high office he held, “but because he made us feel like we were one of his best friends.”
“He was respected in the halls of government, but he never met a stranger. He was a great man, but he was neither proud nor was he arrogant. He wielded power, but he did so with grace,” the senior pastor said.
At one end was the office he held and at the other was the man, and in this respect he’s like the Kennesaw Avenue bridge Tumlin is preparing to name after him.
“For while he was a giant in this state and while he is a giant in our hearts, he was above all a child of God who did his best to pass on the grace that he received,” Evans said.
Hines was killed in a car wreck on November 4, leaving behind wife Helen, two children and four grandchildren. He was 75.
The instant grief brought on by that tragedy rendered us speechless. But while our community mourns his passing, Evans said his legacy will never die.
“The life he modeled can live on in us,” Evans said.
As he prepared to hang up his robe as chief justice one last time just a short three months ago, Hines addressed a gathering of young attorneys after swearing them in to argue cases before Georgia’s Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. He implored them to not only work hard, but to remember everyone is fighting a battle and encouraged them to view the world through “the eyes of kindness.”
“You’ll find that you will see better,” he said.
The integrity, justice, grace and kindness Hines exhibited throughout his life has made better this community, this state and its citizens. The lessons this Southern gentleman and moral titan leaves behind ensures his legacy will forever burn bright.