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Houston County Heritage Association

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Legal Community 1893 til 1950

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Joseph Robert Ramsey

Born 26 Jul 1906 Pinckard, Alabama
Died: Nov 1979

800 North Cherokee Avenue
Dothan, Alabama


University of Alabama undergraduate and Law School  1924-1929


Practiced first above the Penney Building downtown, then moved to 207  W. Troy Street
Practiced with Oscar Tompkins for a while.  Then with son, Edward Ramsey. Ed moved to Birmingham and became a Judge.  Son Joel joined the firm after Wade Baxley became a partner. 
Ramsey and Baxley
(J. Robert Ramsey, Wade H. Baxley and Joel W. Ramsey)
Byrd Grace Farmer        
T. M. Espy      

Judge Keener Baxley

Frank Moss Gaines, Sr. Moved to the area in 1903.  His law office was above the S.R.M. Store in 1906.  That is a picture of William Jennings Bryan on the wall.      


Ramsey Park named for attorney Robert Ramsey and his wife, Hilda Hawkins Ramsey

Hilda and her boys   In 2001 the Ramsey brothers, Joe, Ed, Bill and Phil donated land that had once been part of the Murphy Estate bought by J. Robert Ramsey to the city for a park memorializing their wonderful parents. Dr. J.Paul Maddox, pastor Emeritus of the First Baptist Church delivered theInvocation and Minister's tribute. We thank Thee, oh God, for the memory of two of Thy choice and most devoted servant, Robert and Hilda Ramsey.Their marriage must have been made in Heaven, for they were so devoted to each other and to Thee. How proud they were of their sons ,and those they chose to be their brides. How wonderfully blessed they were with grandchildren of whom they were so very proud.

We pray that The Ramsey Park may be a focus of joy and a blessing fo rmany citizens of Dothan in all the years to come. Just as the Ramseys dedicated their lives to making Dothan a better place, may wehere today dedicate ourseves to their high ideals and to a renewed faith in God.

We thank Thee that their good name is on this monument, and we pray that the Scripture inscribed on it will be a source of blessings for generations to come.

I consider it a great privilege to have a part in these ceremonies of dedication of The Ramsey Park. Nearly fifty years ago, when I was pastor of the First Baptist Church, I had no more faithful church members or friends than Hilda and Robert Ramsey.

How appropriate is their choice of the Scripture which has been inscribed on this monument , f o und in Proverbs 22: 1, "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving f avo u r ratherthansilver and gold."All through the years, the Ramsey name has been such a respected and honored name in all of this area. What a heritage Mr.and Mrs. Ramsey left to their sons and their families!

Joseph Robert Ramsey was born on July 26, 1906, on Lena Street in Dothan,Alabama. He was the third of four children born to Richard H. Ramsey and Cora Dowling Ramsey.

Hilda Pearl (Hawkins) Ramsey was born on November 18, 1912, the second child of Alpheus Walter Hawkins and Alice Lindsay Hawkins.

Robert Ramsey was graduated from the Dothan High School in 1924. He was a cheerleader o f his school, president of his literary society, andPresident of the Senior Class. Hilda was graduated from the same high school in 1930.

Robert obtained his L. L. B. degree from the Law School of the University of Alabama. He was a member of the Pi Kappa Phisocialfraternity, and the manager of the baseball team. Hilda attended Montevallo College for one year and then Troy State, where she obtained a teaching certificate. Her first teaching job was a one-room school, Flowers Chapel. She subsequently taught at Ardilla.

Robert practiced law in Dothan from 1929-1979, retiring only afewmonthsprior to his dea t h o n November 20, 1979. He was a hardworker,veryfrugal, and gained the respect of everyo n e wi th whom hehadcontact. He was a credit to his profession, serving as President oftheH o ust onCounty Bar Association, and as Bar Commissioner for the20thJudicial Circuit. He cons i der ed his practice to be his "calling"fromGod.

He was a member of the Board of Directors of the Dothan Boys Club,theCity NationalBank , t h e Haven, and served as President of theDothanRotary Club. He was also President of th e Ci t y Realty Companyand ofthe Houston Hotel in Dothan.

Joseph Robert Ramsey fell in love with a very beautiful lady named Hilda Hawkins, and they were married on May 3, 1935, during the great Depression. They lived on Pettus Street in Dothan when their first son,Joseph Robert Ramsey, Jr. Was born in 1938. The Ramseys moved to 112 H erring Street in 1939 where their other sons were born; Philip was born on April 20, 1940 ; Edward was born on December 9, 1941, just two days after Pearl Harbor; Joel was born on May 3 , 1947, and William, on August15, 1948. Their first born, Bob, died of cancer in 1946 . I n 1951 they moved to 800 North Cherokee where they lived until 1978, when they moved to #3 D anmor Place.

Hilda and Robert RamseyMrs. Ramsey was the disciplinarian of the family, and Mr. Ramsey was the breadwinner. Mr . R a msey was a soft-spoken man, who tended to be a peacemaker. He rarely lost his temper or raised his voice.Mrs.Ramsey's principal vocation was rearing her children, and their sons te l me that she was more than equal to the task. She was especially strict on the behavior of their sons at church on Sunday mornings.Their grandchildren were the love of  her life. She was not strict with them. She couldn't stand to see any of her grandchildren spanked. Mrs . Ra msey loved to read, but her favorite social activities were spending time with her friends , her church groups, and her luncheon club.

Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey loved to socialize with their friends through their bridge club and ot her activities. They loved trips to Atlanta, Birmingham, Montgomery, Compass Lake, and Panama City Beach.

Mr. Ramsey was a loving husband and father. He came home for lunch almost every day. H e was always there for his wife and each of his sons. He acquired the majority interest in the Houston Hotel in the early '60s.Those were days in which the traveling public was turning f ro m downtown hotels to motels. Mrs. Ramsey managed the Hotel Restaurant, and operatedit profitably enough to keep the hotel going.The restaurant was famous for its Shrimp Salad and lemon Ice Box Pie.She was loved and respected by her staff. She never worried about spending money as long as her husbnd was alive. However after his death,she became much more conservative. Unfortunately her final years were marred by the slow but steady progression of Alzheimers Disease.

I will always remember the Ramseys because of their great faith in God and love for their church. It would be impossible for me to describe how much Hilda and Robert meant to First Baptist Church during the years I served as pastor. They were great encouragers of the pastor and church staff. Serving the Lord through their church was the joy of their lives. During several years Mr. Ramsey was Chairman of Deacons. Mrs.Ramsey was active in the work of Baptist W omen. For a number of years she taught a Sunday School class of girls. She was a gracious hostess,and it is a joy to remember the Christian hospitality of the Ramseys.

I believe that the greatest success for parents is to see their children become Christians, and then make their lives a blessing to those whose lives they touch. Measured by this high standard, if you want to know how well the Ramseys succeeded, just look at their sons, their wives, and grandchildren!

The Ramsey sons know that they inherited from their parents a verygoodname. No wonder t h e y have chosen these words from Proverbs to be inscribed on the back of this monument, "A good name is rathertobechosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold."

How I thank God for the privilege of knowing such wonderful people,and that their memory is being perpetuated by a park in our city named,The Ramsey Park!

God bless the Ramsey sons and their families as this monumen is dedicated, and will now be unveiled!

Linda Hawkins Woodruff, niece of Hilda Ramsey (herbrotherJerome'sdaughter) spoke at the d e d ication of the park:

I am honored to have the opportunity to briefly reminisce about my aunt, Hilda Hawkins Rams e y . Those of you here today who knew Aunt Hilda knew her to be a gracious charming Southern lady. You will remember how important her family, her church, and her friends, and her community were to her. She enjoyed time spent with family and friends at home,at church, and in the community.

As a teacher in public schools and in Sunday school and with her sons, her grandchildren , her nephews and her nieces; Aunt Hilda demonstrated her love for children. The only admonition I recall her giving to us was that we "play pretty." Aunt Hilda was a wonderful hostess . She enjoyed entertaining and she always made each guest feel welcome,as if he or she were the guest of honor.

Aunt Hilda would be delighted with this park, a place where families and friends can enjoy time together as she enjoyed time with her family and friends and where children can pla y . I can see her now,smiling and reminding them in her soft Southern voice to "play pretty "  nd treating them, their families, and their friends as very special guests at RamseyPark.

Note from daughter-in-law Sharman Burson Ramsey: Mom and Dad were always loving and generous . When I would express my thanks for their help Mom's response was always "It was my pleasure." I can only pray that attitude of gratefulness for the privilege of "being able to be there" for my children will be as evident for them as it was for me when Mom expressed those feelings. I was their first "daughter" and enjoyed the warmth of their love and that of Joe's b rothers. Our favorite activity is being together as a family laughing...oh the laughter ! ! !One brother plays off the other brother and soon everyone is sidesplitting with laughter . We are blessed to live in the North Cherokee home wherewehave raised our children. Brooke was the first baby brought home to this house. It is here we gather as a family for weddings and funerals. We are blessed.Truly...ours is a "goodly heritage."

Written by son Joel Wardlaw Ramsey:

JOSEPH ROBERT RAMSEY Born July 26, 1906, on Lena Street in Dothan,Alabama, son of Richard H . and Cora (Dowling) Ramsey. He was the third of four children (siblings Cassie, R.H., Jr . , and Frances).

One of Dad's earliest recollections was his first taste of a red pepper. It burned his mouth so badly that he had to get up from the table and run around the house (today his parents would undoubtedly be charged with child abuse). Despite this bad first experience, Dad alway s liked to eat peppers, radishes and other items too spicy for the rest of us.

Dad liked to tell us about how poor his family was when he was growing up (in an effort to make us appreciate how fortunate we were).He had tosell milk from his wagon in the colored section of town. When  the cow"went dry," he had to drive it to the Dowling's farm in Pinckard where it could be put out to pasture. Once on his way back to Dothan he stopped to fish in a stream and actually caught a fish, but when he took it off the hook it flipped back it to the water and got away.

Dad was so excited about going to school that his first day in the first grade (in a building that still stands and was last used as a hosiery mill) he exclaimed: "oh Boy, oh joy, where do we go from here!?" Unfortunately his principal, Claude Pepper (later elected to Congress from Florida), overheard the remark, called it insubordination,and "nipped it in the bud " by taking him to the office for a spanking.

The next teacher who mistook Dad's sincerity paid a high price for it.While he was still in grade school, he got sick one day and asked to be allowed to be allowed to go to the rest room . Instead his teacher made him come and sit in her lap and ridiculed him in front of the class by pretending to comfort him with remarks like "poor  little baby doesn't feel well?" You n g " Joe Robbie" soon proved that he REALLY didn't feel well by throwing up all over her dress ( presumably this was a learning experience for the teacher).

Fortunatelly most of Joe Robbie's school experiences were much happier than that. Obviously he was a good student and popular, although not an athlete. In high school he was a cheerleader and president of his literary society and his senior class (the class of 1924).

J. Robert attended the University of Alabama from 1924 through1929, when he earned his L.L . B . degree. He was a member of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity and served as manager of the baseball team, thus earning membership in the "A" Club (which gave Dad a high priority for football tickets on  those rare occasions when he ordered any).

Dad practiced law from 1929 to 1979, retiring a few monthsbeforehisdeath. Characteristically, Dad waited for his law license to expire on Sept. 30th (he wasn't going to quit without getting the full benefit of that annual license). He had a general and varied practice. Including practically whatever came in the door. Of course, Dad had an excellent practice, since he really was "an honest lawyer." Hecould sincerely say, when asked what he had done that day, "Just tried to do a little good in the world."

I'm not sure, but I think that during most of his legal career Dad was a sole practitioner . However, his first law partner was probably OscarTompkins, a colorful and cantankerous fellow who Dad first knew as one of his teachers. He was also a hobo (better known in those days as"a bum") who "rode the rails" to see the country and " cowboyed,"among other things. However, to the extent that Oscar Tompkins is remembered at all in the Houston County Bar Association, it is for his speech:"S.O.B.s I have known in the Houston County Bar Association." U nfortunately, I was not privileged to have heard that speech, but I doubt he mentioned Dad.While they were practicing together, they decided that they would close the ofice early on Saturdays (the usual closing time was noon) and go for rides in the country. Reportedly that policy lasted four weeks (long enough for them to travel in each direction).

Fortunately for us, Mother noticed Dad and "set her cap" for him.She"just happened to be w alking by" his office at quitting time enough to get him to take her to get a Coke; after that he undoubtedly never had a chance. Ironically Dad's first experience with Mother's father w as not a pleasant one: Dad foreclosed the mortgage on the family home(probably the one on the corner of Orange and Powell Streets). However, to his credit, Mr.Hawkins had no hard feelings over that, although he didn't consider Dad worthy of Hilda Pearl.

Despite Mr. Hawkins's misgivings, J. Robert and Hilda were married in her parent's home on May 3, 1935. They first resided with Uncle Richard and Aunt Lucille before obtaining their first home at 112 N. Herring.All 5 of their sons were born while they lived there, and their oldest ,Joseph Robert Ramsey, Jr., (Bob), (1938-1946) died there after a protracted struggle w i t h cancer. (kidney, ed. note)

The Ramseys built a beautiful new home in what ws then still mostly woods, at 800 N. Cherok e e , in 1950-51. They lived there until all of  the boys were grown and married, in 1978. Mother finally convinced Dad to build anew home, at 3 Danmor and they moved into it in November of that year.

Getting back to Dad's legal career, his first case was the collection of a two dollar account . His fee was $1, of which he gave 10 cents to the church.

Dad worked hard on his practice, and he tried to be sure we all understood that money was h a r d to come by, so we had to save and be frugal. However Phil soon got tired of hearing that sermon. He noticed that every day when they picked Dad up in the car after work, he would first go across the street to the Post Office to mail his correspondence. After hearing one more time how tight money was, Phil finally told him: "Dad, if you would really work, instead of just writing letters all day, we would have some money."

Despite having a successful law practice, lawyers (and doctors) did not get rich in those days . Dad rarely billed by the hour (his top rate was $25 an hour in 1979), instead he just tried to figure what his services were worth, and "what the traffic could bear." He had no complaints that I know of.

Dad acknowledged that he made most of his money from his real estate deals. His principal real estate acquisition was the"Murphy Estate."This transaction was somewhat involved. One o f Dad's Mother's sisters, Lottie Dowling, married Charles D. Murphy, Sr., a successful busi ness man but not much of a family man. In fact, he was so mean that when he died he left most of his estate (which was considerable) to the local Masonic Temple. The family retained Dad to file a will contest, and the best lawyers in town became involved on each side. Finally the Masons proposed a settlement: the family could choose either the money or the land. Dad urged the Murphys to take the land, and they did. However,once the case was over with the Murphys had second thoughts,since they couldn't spend the land and it did not produce much income .Dad searched for a buyer, and offered it to everyone who was interested, including his high school classmate, Harry Hall (who invested heavily in Dothan real estate, and subsequently made enough money to start a savings and loan business). However times were hard and no one was interested in buying the land. Therefore Dad agreed to purchase it for the amount of the cash the Masons kept, provided the Murphys agreed to finance the sale, which they did. Thus Dad obtained the land where most of Cloverdale Subdivision was developed, and numerous oth e r tra cts of land in the city and county. More than half of this property Dad transferred to City R alty Company, which we continued until after Mother's death.

Dad was an old fashioned father. He saw his role as the breadwinner,and generally left the child rearing to Mother. She was equal to the task,and believed in the Proverb "spare the rod and spoil the child."And her spankings never hurt her more than me. However Dad rarely raised his hand to us. On one occasion when Ed had exhausted Mother's patience, Dad intervened and said: "Let me handle this Mother." Whereupon he gave Ed a stern lecture. Ed learned from that experience.The next time Mother got ready to send Ed to get a switch, Ed said :"Let's let Dad handle this, Mom." (I doubt that worked, although Ed did get away with alot, since he was always Mother's favorite).

A lot of our recollections are centered on the kitchen table, where we took our family meals together. Dad almost always came home for lunch (except for Mondays, when he went to the Rotary Club). We would wait awhile for Dad and then go ahead; invariably he would drive up onc westarted eating.

On one occasion Dad decided to cure Phil and Ed of gluttony. After he got tired of hearing them repeatedly ask for more dessert, he gave them all the candy that he could find in the house . However when they got sick that night, Mother was the one who got up to see about them . Dad never tried that with Bill and me.

We all had our regular places at the table. Bill sat to Dad'sright.Once Dad brought a business acquaintance home to eat with us,and the gentleman made the mistake of sitting in Bil l ' s place. Bill warned him ""You better not sit there; he (Dad) will eat off your plate."

Dad enjoyed good health most of his life, and was rarely sick. However when we were in Birmingham for Dick Moseley's wedding sometime during the winter of '78-'79, Dad slipped on some ice while walking up an incline at the Ramada Hotel and fell, breaking some ribs. After his retirement he had cataract surgery. Nevertheless he seemed to be in good health until Monday , November 20, 1979. Dad said he didn't feel well, and  missed the Rotary Club meeting, which was very unusual forhim. That evening he walked over to our house, but I was at a Boy Scout meeting.When I got home Sharman and I went over and visited with him and Mother for awhile . After  midnight, Mother called to say that Dad couldn't catch his breath, but the paramedics were tending to him, and they were going tothe hospital. She was sure everything would be OK, and she would call me from there. When she did, Dad was gone.