Friday, December 14, 2012
For the second time in his life and 68 years after earning his first degree, A. Paul Cadenhead, 86, walked across the stage at UWG’s fall graduation ceremony Saturday, Dec. 8 where he received the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. This distinction has only been bestowed twelve previous times in UWG’s 106-year history.
“Inasmuch as UWG honored Cadenhead with an honorary doctorate on Saturday, I believe that we are honored by having a person of this stature as a graduate of what was then West Georgia College and now as a recipient of the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of West Georgia,” said Dr. Beheruz N. Sethna, UWG president. “To a man of his stature, a World War II veteran, the first attorney in Atlanta’s history to receive all three of the Atlanta Bar Association’s top awards, and a strong UWG supporter and friend, I can only say thank you to Cadenhead and Sara for all their contributions.”
In a stately Southern accent, Cadenhead ’44 delivered the commencement address, “Onward March of Opportunity,” to a lively audience which packed The Coliseum.
Acknowledging the challenges facing the nation, he illustrated the resiliency of the United States in previous periods of strife and encouraged the audience to “…look both backward for our basis of hope and forward for the goal of our promise. We will see that there is much from our past that is not just good because it is old, but is old because it is good.”
Cadenhead’s own history extols the importance of education and its multiplier effect on the larger community.
“I grew up in a sharecropping family,” Cadenhead explains. “I was a high school dropout. A teacher got me back in school and, because I had to support my siblings and mother, I got a job on the cotton mill.”
He was able to work full-time on the second shift while he finished his senior year of high school. That same teacher then arranged for him to attend a vocational school that adjoined the West Georgia campus.
In order to build an audience for the commencement exercises in the early years of World War II, vocational students were invited to attend that year’s ceremony.
“Within a period of 24 hours the entire course of my life changed,” Cadenhead says.
It was then, with dogged determination, that he approached Dr. Irvine S. Ingram, president of the college, to share his story. Although Cadenhead was studying welding and sheet metal at the vocational school, he wanted to attend the junior college and eventually study law.
Dr. Ingram saw something special in the 16-year-old. He helped Cadenhead with his financial situation by arranging jobs for him around the small campus to pay for courses. While not in classes, Cadenhead busied himself hauling coal, firing boilers, working as the night watchman, driving the college bus, filling in at the post office and painting.
“Dr. Ingram didn’t single me out; he helped everybody,” Cadenhead says. “He was West Georgia in the early days.”
At that time, Cadenhead also found love with Sara Davenport ’44. She, too, was working her way through college: part-time in the dean’s office and as the editor of the West Georgian, with additional help from a 4-H scholarship.
Cadenhead fondly remembers firing the furnace on cold nights in the basement of Adamson Hall, then a girls’ dorm. He would tap on the water line and Sara, hearing his signal, would lower a note and a snack from her window to help nourish and warm his spirits.
After graduating from West Georgia in 1944 and serving as a paratrooper in World War II, he married Sara and continued his education at Emory University Law School. He became a successful trial lawyer with a career that has spanned more than 60 years.
Cadenhead quickly established himself as a prominent trial lawyer with a penchant for trying cases involving a wide range of topics. In 1958, his early success and fast-growing reputation prompted the Atlanta Bar Association to request that Cadenhead serve as special prosecutor in the investigation of a number of state officials for crimes committed while in office. His successful work on that case, resulting in 22 indictments of public officials, state employees, and private citizens, earned him a plaque from The Atlanta Bar Association “For Services in the Highest Tradition of the Legal Profession.” The same year, in 1960, the Atlanta Junior Chamber of Commerce recognized Cadenhead as Atlanta’s Young Man of the Year in Professions.
His colleagues have elected him to office in practically every legal organization in Atlanta. He has served on the Board of Governors of the State Bar of Georgia, as President of the Atlanta Bar Association, as President of the Federal Defender Program, as President of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, and as President of Atlanta Estate Planning Council and as President of the Old War Horse Lawyers Club. He is a fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, a fellow in the International Society of Barristers and a fellow in The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, to name a few.
He is also the first attorney in Atlanta’s history to receive all three of the Atlanta Bar Association’s top awards: The Charles A. Watkins, Jr. Award for Distinguished and Sustained Service to the Profession (1992), The Leadership Award (2000), and The Professionalism Award (2004). He has also been listed in all three editions of Best Lawyers in America.
Throughout his life, Cadenhead has been active in his community. He has served as president of both the Atlanta Mental Health Association and the Georgia Association of Mental Health, and was a charter member and trustee of the Georgia Conservancy. He has also served on the boards of the Sandy Springs Historical Foundation and the Friends of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.
But the Cadenheads have never forgotten the place and the people who helped them achieve their success.
“I pledged on my honor to never forget West Georgia,” Cadenhead recalls. “My goal was to spend my latter years in the payback mode in sort of a delayed payment for the benefits that were given to me earlier in life.”
In 1992, both Cadenheads gathered the classes of the 1940s together and collectively established the I.S. Ingram Scholarship, an endowment fund for underprivileged students in memory of the former president.
“My real joy comes in knowing…that a student will always be present on campus under that scholarship,” Cadenhead says. “And by doing so, the memory of Dr. Ingram, who made it all possible, will live in perpetuity.”
On the Cadenheads’ 50th wedding anniversary in 1995, he surprised his wife by endowing the Davenport-Cadenhead Scholarship with an initial $50,000 – $1,000 for each year of their marriage – in her honor. With additional contributions from family and friends, the scholarship can now support multiple students. Her portrait hangs in the Cadenhead Lobby of the new Adamson Hall, where she lived when it was a dormitory, to commemorate another major gift from the Cadenheads. Together the Cadenheads were recently awarded the Thelma Harman Turner Alumni Loyalty Award from the National Alumni Association.
And though Adamson Hall was demolished in 2001, Dr. Beheruz N. Sethna, UWG’s current president, located what was once his future wife’s room and took a brick from the window to commemorate the descent of the baskets of goodies and love notes she sent to Cadenhead so many years ago. The brick, along with other West Georgia memorabilia, is in a place of honor at the Cadenhead home.
“I don’t consider myself generous – I just want to help others like I was helped,” Cadenhead insists. “Dr. Ingram and West Georgia gave me my life. I have a lot to payback. I think that’s what he’d want me to do.”
The University of West Georgia Foundation is fortunate to have had Cadenhead serve on its Board of Trustees since 1996, naming a lifetime member in 2002. In recognition of his commitment to the university, he has received the Distinguished Service Award from the UWG Alumni Association and also the Founders Award. In addition to these UWG honors, Emory University selected him as an Outstanding Alumnus, and Georgia State College of Law awarded him its Ben F. Johnson Public Service Award.
When asked about how he felt about the honorary doctorate, Cadenhead replied, “It is more than a dream come true. As a matter of fact, I went to [Dr. Ingram’s] grave to thank him.”
Cadenhead concluded his speech: “In a word I have never left West Georgia, and West Georgia has never left me. In colorful autumn of my life, as in its verdant spring, I continue enjoying the trees planted by others, including my beloved Dr. Ingram, the first president of West Georgia, whose grave I recently visited. To current President Dr. Sethna, for whom this huge university is a living monument, I say that your tenure as leader of this university is indelibly implanted in the lives of future leaders of our country. To you graduates and future leaders, we confidently transfer the baton, knowing that through you the inspiration of West Georgia will compound through time. So it has been in my life. Together we affirm our gratitude that we ‘Went West.’”