John Mixon was raised on a farm outside the East Texas town of Cushing. The 1955 alumnus served on the University of Houston Law Center faculty for nearly 60 years. For him, a legal education brought upward mobility and a lengthy and satisfactory professional career.
“I was born in 1933 during the Great Depression,” Mixon said. “Our family house sat on a 160-acre farm with 23 starving cows. In winter, I fed those cows every morning, hoping they would live until spring grazing season. Life became easier in 1942 when my mother secured a teaching position at the local elementary school. I was nine years old. Her meagre paycheck enabled us to survive the war years.
“My desire to get off the farm and realize a better life brought me to Houston where I could get a day job and go to law school at night.”
The school’s founding dean, A.A. White, had a profound impact on Mixon as a law student and as a mentor. He also fondly recalls classmates, many of whom were returning GIs who brought impressive academic credentials along with their valorous life experiences.
“Dean A.A. White created an excellent law school,” Mixon said. “The teachers were great, and the students were exceptional. A.A. White believed in high quality. He imposed the highest admission standards in the state, and it showed. The student body was uniformly bright, uniformly hard-working and they turned out to be good, sometimes great, lawyers after graduation.”
As Mixon approached the conclusion of his 3L year, reluctantly facing military draft, White offered him a career option not typically available to graduating law students – a chance to join the law school’s faculty.
“It was by accident that I became a law teacher,” Mixon said. “I was about to be drafted, and Dean White called me one morning and asked, ‘If I could get you a deferment, would you stay and teach for a year?’ It didn't take me long to say yes.”
Professor John Mixon specialized in real property, land finance, zoning law, and Jurisprudence. He received teaching excellence awards from the University of Houston in 1974, from Order of the Barons in 1980, 1985, 1994, and 1995, and from the Student Bar in 1988, 1989, and 1990.
The teaching opportunity arose because one of Mixon’s professors, David Vernon, accepted a position at another law school, leaving a number of courses open.
“They needed me to fill in, and I was glad to escape the draft, if only for a year,” Mixon said. “I had never thought about teaching law. When I stepped into the classroom that fall, I was 22 years old, the youngest person in the room, and I was expected to teach 30 students, many of whom had been seasoned by war. After I got over the fright of the first few classes, law teaching became fun. I could also fully appreciate the student quality of A.A. White's law school.
“At the end of the year, though, three years of military service loomed. I was lucky to spend the time in New Orleans as a Coast Guard officer. I hadn't any idea what I would do with my legal education after the Coast Guard. But in 1959, just before my discharge, Dean Newell Blakely called to offer me a regular teaching position. That call shaped my entire remaining life.”
Mixon’s courses included Contracts, Land Finance, Oil and Gas and Property. He authored “Texas Municipal Zoning Law” and was co-author of “Principles for Local Environmental Management” – among numerous monographs, articles and book reviews. He was passionately involved in law school politics throughout his tenure.
Mixon is author of Texas Municipal Zoning Law and the co-author of Principles of Environmental Management for Local Governments and Texas Land Use. He is also author of “Autobiography of a Law School” (2012) which includes stories, memoirs and his interpretations of his 60 years at the University of Houston Law Center.
“I was a pretty fair cartoonist,” Mixon said. “I began to draw cartoons on the board as I taught, and students quickly came to identify the specific characters with paradigm law situations. The technique helped me organize course presentations, and helped students learn and recall the material.”
Mixon retired from the Law Center’s faculty in 2013. He credits his legal training, and a bit of serendipity, for his decades of service to the Law Center.
“I wouldn't have spent 54 years of fun teaching UHLC students except that I had gone to law school right there,” Mixon said. “If I had gone to law school elsewhere, there's no way I would have had the opportunity to step directly into the classroom at age 22. The particular needs of the Law Center at that time provided the opportunity to enjoy a long and happy professional life.
“Law teaching was much better than working on a farm. It was more peaceful than trying to practice law. It was a total joy to spend a half century having fun with bright law students. Without having gone to law school in Houston at that time, I would have never had that opportunity.”