Aug. 18, 2015 – As a successful double-UH graduate, John Boswell took Cougar spirit and Law Center loyalty to a new level 15 years ago, lobbying the Texas governor to appoint only fellow alums to serve on the UH System Board of Regents.
Boswell, Law Center Class of ’66, and several friends and colleagues formed an ad-hoc political action committee and convinced then-Gov. Rick Perry that more UH graduates should have a hand in running their university. As a result of this lobbying, the governor appointed Raul A. Gonzalez, Jr., a former Texas Supreme Court Justice and Boswell’s law school classmate.
That strong commitment to alma mater continues today as Boswell remains an active supporter and loyal contributor to the Law Center. Along with older brother Hank (who would go on to become a vice president of Humble Oil, predecessor to ExxonMobil), Boswell grew up in a farming and ranching family outside Lubbock. A lifelong sports enthusiast, Boswell went to UH on a baseball scholarship, juggling his studies in geology, business, and economics with his work running and coaching at a Boy’s Club for underprivileged kids, including a teen-aged Kenny Rogers, years before he gained fame as a singer and songwriter.
In 1950, he left UH to join the U.S. Marine Corps during the tense Cold War years between the Korean and Vietnam conflicts; He became a pilot flying off aircraft carriers while also serving as legal officer of his squadron, getting his first taste of the legal world.
“I had never given any thought of being a lawyer. But once I got into Navy Justice School, I said, ‘Boy, I have found what I want to do,’ ” he says. (The Marines are a branch of the U.S. Navy.)
Afterleaving active duty, Boswell considered going to law school on the East Coast, but decided his home base would be a good place to establish his own firm one day.
“So I came back to UH, and that was a very good decision for me,” he says.
There was one slight problem. Boswell was still in the Marine Reserves, and was committed to performing flight duties from a New Orleans base for one weekend a month, which conflicted with taking night classes on Fridays. Then-Dean Newell Blakely had a policy of docking students’ grades if they missed a class.
“I went in and talked to him about it. He said, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t make any exceptions,’ ” Boswell says. Years later – after he became a successful attorney – he gently joked about that with his former dean when Blakely sought a donation to the school.
Boswell took the bar exam early, before graduation. He passed, and the day he was sworn in and licensed as an attorney, he formed a new firm, Boswell and O’Toole, with a law-school friend.
The firm specialized in insurance litigation, and in the days before there was a large push toward mediation or arbitration, Boswell quickly gained extensive trial experience. He would go on to handle matters as varied as medical malpractice, workers’ compensation, deceptive trade practices, and asbestos claims.
“I enjoy the competition,” he says. “I’m quietly very competitive. I was trying cases all over Texas. One day, you’re in the big city, and you have to understand how big city people think. The next day, you’re in the country somewhere.”
Boswell enjoys using his trial skills to support the University, Law Center, and legal community. He was approached by another UHLC alumnus, Charles Runnels ’56, now chancellor emeritus of Pepperdine University, to serve on the Pepperdine School Law Visitors and was subsequently joined by UHLC alumna Paula Douglass ’88.
The ad hoc lobbying committee he helped form some 15 years ago ultimately became the basis for the successful UH Political Action Committee established by Welcome Wilson, Sr.
Like so many other UHLC alumni, Boswell’s gratitude for the opportunities afforded him through his legal education has motivated his gifts of time and talent toward the betterment of the Law Center and the legal community. He hopes all of the Law Center’s alumni will take that to heart.
“If each one would just contribute a reasonable amount, it would take care of many of the Law Center’s needs,” he says.