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Athelyne Banks and John Caddell shared the dance floor during the Minority Awards Banquet in September 2005, where both received Community Involvement Awards. Both longtime Decatur leaders died Tuesday.
DAILY File Photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Athelyne Banks and John Caddell shared the dance floor during the Minority Awards Banquet in September 2005, where both received Community Involvement Awards. Both longtime Decatur leaders died Tuesday.

Pair of Decatur pillars fall
Community mainstay John
Caddell, 95, dies

By Paul Huggins
DAILY Staff Writer

phuggins@decaturdaily.com 340-2395

John A. Caddell finally has an excuse to say no.

The 95-year-old attorney, who said his biggest failing in life was an inability to turn down invitations to join and often lead charitable causes and chances to improve his community, died Tuesday morning at Decatur General Hospital.

He had emergency surgery Monday morning to repair an aneurysm in his lower aorta. The surgery was successful, but his age was a major obstacle to recovery, one of his sons, Tom Caddell, said.

His father's death ends one of the most remarkable lives in Decatur and Alabama history.

'Chief spokesman, organizer and leader'

The Alabama Legislature even passed a resolution last spring saluting him as "chief spokesman, organizer and leader of virtually every worthwhile community enterprise in Decatur and Morgan County." The resolution continued, "It would be impossible to find any citizen of the state of Alabama who has made a greater contribution to the cause of higher education in Alabama than John Caddell."

The Tuscumbia native, who moved to Decatur at age 4, gave himself entirely and equally to his family, his profession, his college and his community, said friends, family and colleagues.

Those close to him are quick to tell how for 17 years he cared for his wife, Lucy, as she battled Alzheimer's disease, even providing around-the-clock care for her during her last four years.

Despite the demands on his time and strength, he continued his community service and after her death in 2001, helped start an annual Alzheimer's conference that bears his and his wife's names.

"The 17 years I was her primary caregiver gave great pleasure to me," he told the conference last year. "There were 36-hour days, but I never regretted a single one. She was still wonderful until the day she died."

The Caddells had four children, Lucinda, Tom and twins Jack and Henry. All three sons followed their father into the legal profession.

Caddell graduated from The University of Alabama Law School in 1933 and continued to report to work every day until his death. He left litigation to younger lawyers years ago, but he still handled corporate and estate cases, and his advice always carried weight in economic development.

Bob Harris, 75, his partner since 1957, said he doesn't want to think what life is going to be like in Caddell's absence.

The fact that he continued practicing at 95 testifies how much he loved his job and how much people trusted him.

"There is no substitute for character and honesty and hard work in the law business," Harris said, trying to briefly summarize what he learned from Caddell.

"It's impossible to capture the scope of this man's passions and life and his love for the law," he said. "He was certainly a man for all seasons, and it brings us face to face with the fact that our words are inadequate to fully describe the full measure of people like John Caddell."

Caddell served as president of the state and county bar associations. He was a founding member of the Farrah Law Society and a trustee since 1965. He also was a founding member of The University of Alabama Law School Foundation, for which he was an Executive Committee director since 1961.

Before law school, Caddell attended The University of Alabama, and it was there that he met and fell in love with Lucy. He never lost his love for either.

He served on the university's board of trustees from 1954 to 1979 and was president pro tem from 1975 to 1978.

David Mathews, who became university president in 1969, said Caddell was a source of strength and a "quiet voice of reason" he depended on while navigating Alabama's difficult years of integration. Caddell also had a keen understanding of the university's role in improving the state and that the college was there for the public good.

"He wasn't in it for himself," said Mathews, who left Alabama to become secretary for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare for President Ford, a career change that made Caddell interim president for several months.

"Power wasn't important to him," said Mathews. "Doing the right thing was. Our last conversations were about broadening the scope of membership in the Alabama Academy of Honor. He was a driving force until the very end of his life in good causes like that."

John T. Oliver Jr. served as a trustee with Caddell in the 1970s and credited Caddell as being one of the founding fathers for the university system that led to campuses in Birmingham and Huntsville.

He also recalled Caddell was such a big fan of Alabama athletics that he bought a red-and-white Lincoln Continental every year.

"You never knew whether he had a new car or not because they always looked alike," he said.

Caddell and the Bear

Legend declares that it was Caddell who masterminded the plan to lure Bear Bryant from Texas A&M in 1958, but he said that was not completely true.

As a trustee, Caddell phoned Bryant, his former college buddy, in College Station seeking the soon-to-be-legendary coach's opinion about whether the board should hire Frank Rose as university president.

Bryant, who knew Rose from their college connections in Lexington, Ky., recommended Rose. The board hired him, and Rose turned around and hired Bryant. The rest is history.

The honors the Capstone bestowed upon him include the Tutwiler Award in 1980, the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award in 1984 and the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1986.

When Caddell began his legal career in Decatur in 1933, former DAILY publisher Barrett C. Shelton quickly corralled him and put him into community service.

Industrial development

The chief aim was to transform Depression-stricken Decatur from a town dependent upon its sprawling railroad shops into a multi-dimensional industrial center. Today, Morgan County boasts dozens of Fortune 500 companies.

Caddell was an instrumental part of every major industrial development project since then, said Lynn Fowler, former mayor and chairman of the Morgan County Economic Development Association.

"I firmly believe that a lot of the industries we have today came for a lot of reasons, but one of the most important was because of John Caddell and the respect and trust and confidence they had in him.

"Even in his late stages, he had that enthusiasm and ability to convince people this would be the right decision to make," Fowler said. "It's going to be more difficult without him. There's no one to take his place that I know of."

Like his mentor Shelton, Caddell knew good jobs were only part of what made a community special. Over the years, he helped start Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce and United Way of Morgan County, and gave his leadership to countless service projects and organizations such as the Boy Scouts, Kiwanis Club and Decatur General Foundation.

Trudy Grisham, president of the Decatur General Foundation, remembers how it only took a little pleading to get her "dearest friend" to help her to start the foundation in 1984, the same year Caddell's wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

"He was 75 at the time, and he said, 'Oh, I'm too old.' Then he said he would do it, but won't be an officer," she said.

"Then I told him he had to be the first board chair because he had to set the bar. He said, 'OK, I'll do it for one year.' He ended up being our board chair for three years. And he's never been off our board since."

His lasting eagerness to serve was evident. He was going to fill in for her this week while she performed church mission work on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Grisham said.

As another example of devotion, Caddell invited the entire congregation from First Presbyterian Church, where he served as deacon, elder and Sunday school teacher, to his house for a social Friday night.

Caddell earned practically every local community-service award including the Barrett C. Shelton Sr. Freedom Award at last year's Spirit of America Festival. When he turned 95 last April, friends feted him with a birthday celebration.

He confided then that he should have died 25 years earlier and that he didn't want to live much longer.

'I just keep ticking'

"Frankly, 95 is longer than a person is supposed to live," he said. "But I just keep hanging on. For some reason, I just keep ticking and having fun."

Perhaps Caddell's most overlooked contribution was his vivid and accurate memory of everything he witnessed since he was a boy. The proud owner of Decatur's first phone regularly contributed to DAILY historic stories, including at least five in an upcoming special section called Valley Past and Present. In one article, he was able to recall the first families to get cars in his neighborhood and what kind of cars they drove.

Tom Caddell said his father was so enthusiastic about everything he did, it's hard to know what part of his life he loved the most.

"I really don't think there was one thing he tried to elevate above another," he said. "But I would say what he liked the best was helping young people get started. He would always stop whatever he was doing if somebody wanted to come in for career advice."

Upon receiving the Freedom Award in July, Caddell said he simply never had the heart to turn somebody down.

"I broke my 'No,' my N-O," he said. "When things come along, and people ask me to do things to help this community, I can't say, 'No.' That's been my principal contribution to the community."

Funeral, visitation

Funeral for John A. Caddell will be today at 2 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church with Roselawn Funeral Home directing. Visitation will be tonight from 5 to 7 at his home at 2200 Country Club Road S.E.

John A. Caddell's educational, professional, civic distinctions

  • The University of Alabama trustee, 1954-79, and president pro tem, 1975-78, acting president of Tuscaloosa campus, June to November 1975.
  • The University of Alabama Tutwiler Award, 1980; Distinctive Image Award, 1982; Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, 1984; Distinguished Alumnus Award, 1986.
  • Member of "A" Club, The University of Alabama.
  • Founding member, Farrah Law Society and trustee since 1965.
  • The University of Alabama Law School Foundation, founding member and Executive Committee of board of directors since 1961.
  • The University of Alabama Alumni Association, national president, 1953.
  • Alabama State Bar board of commissioners, 1939-54; board of bar examiners, 1950-51.
  • Member of Alabama State Bar (president 1951-52), Morgan County Bar Association, American Bar Association and American Judicature Society.
  • Fellow of American College of Trial Lawyers, American College of Probate Counsel and American Bar Foundation.
  • Fraternities: Pi Kappa Alpha, Omicron Delta Kappa and Phi Delta Phi.
  • First National Bank of Decatur, director, 1966-81, and chairman of board of directors, 1975-81; AmSouth Bank director emeritus.
  • Chairman, Decatur General Hospital Foundation, 1983-85.
  • Counsel to Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1944.
  • Brotherhood Award of National Conference of Christians and Jews, 1979.
  • Humanitarian Award, Decatur Chamber of Commerce, 1985.
  • Alabama Democratic Party Executive Committee, 1938-50.
  • Decatur Chamber of Commerce, president 1943-44.
  • Decatur Kiwanis Club, president 1939, winner of Golden Trowel award, 1987; George F. Hixson Fellow, 1998.
  • Elected to Alabama Academy of Honor, 1977.
  • Rotary Club of Decatur, Paul Harris Fellow, 1990.
  • United Way of Morgan County, Ira Lay Award, 2003.
  • Barrett C. Shelton Sr. Freedom Award, 2005.
  • Morgan County Minority Development Association, Community Involvement Award, 2005.

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