Baylor Legacy Award: George & Martha Chandler

October 1, 2015

Awarded to individuals who demonstrate extraordinary service and philanthropy to Baylor or to causes that fit our mission as a Christian university

In a Baylor classroom in the early 1960s, longtime Baylor history professor Guy B. Harrison was telling stories that made history come alive. One day, his passion for the subject permeating his lecture, Harrison physically climbed out of a window to demonstrate General Sam Houston's stealthy encounter with the Mexican Army at San Jacinto.

Young history major George Chandler, BA '60, LLB '62, was among Harrison's students that day and became spellbound by Harrison's passion for his subject and his ability to connect through stories. The power of those stories stayed with Chandler as his aspirations changed from teaching history to becoming a lawyer.

"Professor Harrison didn't realize it," Chandler remembers, "but he encouraged me to be a trial lawyer and to tell history stories to juries. He was mesmerizing; he captured your imagination. I realized that a story had the power to pull everything together, to bring facts to life. Eventually I found that if you can tell a story to a jury that connects with them in the case you're trying, it really makes a difference."

For George and his wife Martha, BA '61, that realization would impact their personal story, and the stories of thousands of clients along the way.

George left a secure company job in 1971 to start his firm in Lufkin and in due course became one of the most renowned trial lawyers in the country.

"I was motivated to be a lawyer for the working man, where he'd have a voice against larger organizations with greater resources," Chandler says. "My folks were school teachers in a day where school teachers were paid very little. My grandparents were sawmill workers. That motivated me to be a lawyer--to see people that we would be able to help, and to change things and make life better for them."

"George worked very hard, but success didn't come overnight," Martha says. "There were times we really struggled. But we trusted in God and really never lost hope." George, in turn, credits Martha's support, through both losses and wins, for keeping him going when the firm's future was unsure.

He began to find his stride, and Chandler, Mathis & Zivley began making history, winning many of the largest jury verdicts in Texas history. His successes made him one of the most sought-after trial lawyers and speakers in the country, with a steady stream of clients seeking his services and his legal colleagues wanting to learn his secrets.

The roots of the Chandlers' success can be traced back to Baylor University, where they followed in the footsteps of their parents as Baylor students. George attended Baylor on a tennis scholarship and was named the team's most valuable player in 1960. Martha came to Baylor to study English and education. She caught George's attention in a history class, and he asked her out.

"That was 57 years ago," George says, "and we’ve been going out ever since."

Their love for Baylor stayed strong as they started a firm and grew a family. They shared their love for Baylor with their children, who began attending Baylor games at a young age.

The couple also demonstrated for their children how to prioritize their ultimate passion in life, their Christian faith. No matter how late the game ended on Saturday, they would be in Lufkin in time to teach Sunday school and attend services at First Baptist Church. It is a practice they continue decades later.

Their children--daughter Kelly Chandler Michaels, BA '86, and son Reich, BA '86, JD '92—attended Baylor. Reich followed in his father's footsteps, as a tennis player and as a lawyer, practicing law with his father. Reich's strongest battle however, was not on the tennis court or in the courtroom. Reich battled cancer for 15 months before succumbing to the disease in 2006.

"He had match point against him a long time," George remembers, "but he kept battling. He showed a lot of backbone and a lot of courage."

In the Chandlers' time of grief, the Baylor Family supported them in a number of ways. One that will have a lasting impact on future Baylor students is through The Reich O'Hara Chandler Endowed Memorial Scholarship Fund in Law, which the Chandlers' friends Walter Umphrey, BBA '59, JD '65, and John Eddie Williams, BBA '76, JD '78, established in Reich's memory.

"They blessed our family with that gift, and it's blessing others. When I see his name and his scholarship written down, I wish I could verbalize the way we feel," George says. "I met a young person just last year who had Reich's scholarship, and it thrills me to my toes to see these bright, beautiful young people benefitting from it."

The Chandlers have grown the Chandler Memorial Scholarship many times over since it was established, one of the many ways they have given back to Baylor through the years.

"We've prayerfully discerned what we can do, not only financially, but to give back however we can," Martha says. "We feel truly blessed. Baylor gave us so much, and we’ve always wanted to give back to Baylor. It's a responsibility."