Texas attorney, 101, has no plans to retire

August 8, 2009 5:11:05 AM PDT
With vivid stories from the past century, 101-year-old attorney Jack Borden takes you to the sunny cornfields of his family's farm, dark alleys where he tracked down draft dodgers as an FBI agent and the musty courtroom where he lost his lone criminal trial -- but won on appeal. He pauses only to spit tobacco juice in a spittoon under his desk, where he still works 40 hours a week -- or more.

"People have been asking me since I was 65 when I'm going to retire. And I said, 'I don't think I'll ever retire," Borden said. "When one of these girls finds me with my head on this desk and can't wake me up, then I'll be retired. Coming down here keeps me alive. If I sat home, I'd go crazy. I had friends that retired, and they don't live very long."

Borden arrives at his office every day at 6:30 a.m. sharp, wearing a suit and tie. He reads the newspaper and reviews his real estate and probate cases, the only areas in which he practices anymore. He takes a 30-minute nap at home during his lunch break, then returns to do more work.

He not only knows the law, but he can recount conversations word-for-word from decades ago. He even mentions the names of his childhood pets, relatives' birthdays and details of a world event from the 1930s if it happens to come up in conversation.

While his full-time caretaker prepares his meals and drives him, Borden does everything else for himself, he said. He does not wear a hearing aid but uses a walker and sometimes a wheelchair for longer distances.

"When you talk to him, he is such a role model and has a vibrant outlook on life," said Cynthia Metzler, president of Experience Works, the nation's largest nonprofit training center for older workers. On Wednesday, it named Borden the Outstanding Oldest Worker for 2009. "What struck me about him is that he never repeats himself, and people call him for his advice and opinion. He continues to contribute to not only the legal profession but the community."

Borden grew up in the Weatherford area, about 30 miles west of Fort Worth, and his family was so poor that he wore underwear made of flour sacks as a youngster.

He dropped out of high school just before graduating when his family moved to Arizona to find work during the Great Depression. He later returned to Weatherford to attend a two-year college that accepted older students without high-school diplomas.

Borden earned his undergraduate and law school degrees from the University of Texas, working his way through school by selling ice, cleaning a boarding house, working as a soda fountain jerk and being a janitor.

His first job after law school as an assistant prosecutor in Weatherford didn't pay anything until county officials approved a $25 monthly salary. Soon after he was elected district attorney for two terms, where he prosecuted burglary, drunken driving, rape and murder cases -- even doing his own investigating if he felt the sheriff hadn't done enough, he said.

He wanted to join the Army to be in the intelligence unit but was not accepted because he was colorblind. He then became an FBI agent in the mid-1940s and said he met then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover twice.

"He was a strict disciplinarian," Borden said. "You didn't use that badge for anything other than business."

Borden returned to Weatherford and opened his own law practice, working with several partners over the years on various cases. But in the late 1970s or so, his doctor warned him about his high blood pressure, so he decided to work only on less-stressful real estate and probate cases.

He said he had already decided to stop handling divorces. "They'd have two or three little children, and I'd tell them ... 'You owe them a duty of having parents -- not one parent, but two parents -- and I want y'all to see if you can't work this out,"' Borden said. "The next thing I knew, they went to some other lawyer."

Borden said he has no secret to his long life, other than being blessed by God with his career and wife, Edith, to whom he was married for 66 years before her death in 2006. The couple had no children.

Borden, who is active in his church, said he believes God may have sent him a message four years ago while he was hospitalized with pneumonia. Borden said he was hallucinating during those two weeks, and doctors gave up on him several times.

"I remember walking up a flight of stairs and knocking on the door. A voice came from inside and said, 'Jack, we're not ready for you up here yet. You go back down and tell those doctors to get you well,"' he said. "I thought it was a dream, but I started getting better."

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