Gene Dixon is familiar with the Mark Twain quote that if you can find a job you enjoy doing, you will never have to work a day in your life.
It certainly fits this lawyer’s path in life. Dixon has been a lawyer in Maryville since 1972 and spent several years teaching school after he graduated from college in Alnwick and Rush Strong. The Everett High School and Maryville College graduate married and raised a family; and helping her get a teacher paid didn’t look promising.
So Dixon applied to the University of Tennessee and was accepted. Ms. Diane became the family’s sole breadwinner when he attended classes and studied for the bar exam. Diane was a teacher first assigned to Blount County Bungalow Elementary School in the first two years. She would then switch to Fairview Elementary.
While teaching in the bungalow, Gene got his break, so to speak. Diane had witnessed a shooting while driving to work. One of the lawyers for the case was Carl Koella. While at Dixon’s house to get Diane’s testimony, he noticed that Dixon was quietly studying his law books.
Koella asked Gene what his ambitions were, and when he discovered that Dixon was preparing to start a law firm, he asked Gene to join him.
“He was the most generous person I’ve ever known,” Gene said. “I had a year left, but Carl told me to come back and he would have a job for me. A year later I went to his office and asked if he remembered me. He hired me. “
Diane said they had never met Koella before witnessing one of his cases, and yet the older attorney saw something in her new husband.
“He didn’t know us from Adam,” said Diane.
Koella had his own ambitions. He was elected to the Senate and served for 25 years. He died in 1998. Koella made Dixon a partner shortly after arriving at the practice. Gene said he only spent a few months with Koella before going to the Senate.
The Koella and Dixon law firm began in the Blount National Bank building in downtown Maryville. It later moved to Ellis Avenue near the Blount County Courthouse before ending up on College Street. Although Koella left the company shortly after Dixon arrived, Dixon kept his name on the door.
There are so many memories Gene and Diane can share over the past 48 years. It would have been 49 if Gene had kept going through fall. They had 50 huge file boxes in the office filled with case material, but a few days ago the two of them began the tedious process of getting rid of some and finding space for the rest.
Gene made the decision to retire.
It’s not one who makes genes dizzy with excitement. In fact, he would likely stay if Diane hadn’t insisted. He said he could go on. After all, he is in good health and has not lost his passion for his calling.
By choosing to exercise general law, Gene has had a wide variety of cases, from divorces, wills, personal injury, and criminal cases. The most famous case was most likely the murder trial of James Dellinger, convicted in 1992 of shooting a friend, Tommy Griffin. Dixon worked on this case for months.
Dellinger was offered a declaration of consent, which he declined. In the end, Dellinger was found guilty by a jury and is on death row in a Nashville prison, Gene said.
Gene also likes to tell the story of how Koella convinced a judge during the night court to shoot a rifle out of the courtroom window to make a point.
The falls were challenges to enjoy
“It’s never been a dull day,” said Diane. After 37 years as a teacher, she became her husband’s legal assistant seven years ago. The two have been married for 53 years.
They were able to raise three children and take them to school. Emily is a teacher in Franklin and Brandon is a veterinarian in Hendersonville. Her son Boone was a teacher and trainer in Maryville. He died last May at the age of 38.
COVID-19 and its impact on this country, as well as the loss of her son, were factors in the decision to close the practice. Both Gene and Diane said they were confident that someone would want to take the doors and keep them open, but that didn’t happen.
At the end of last week, the office still looked like they were working. Diane mentioned a huge pile of law books that Gene had used over the decades.
“We have a whole library of law books there,” she said. “Nobody uses them anymore. New lawyers do research on the internet. We’re trying to figure out what to do with them. “
Gene has been practicing since 1972 and is definitely one of the leading members of the bar here in Blount County. He mentioned colleagues like Allen Bray, Duncan Crawford, and Mike Mears – fellow attorneys he has met over the years. Judge James Jarvis was also a longtime friend. Jarvis grew up in Blount County and was appointed federal district judge by President Ronald Reagan.
Gene does not leave his practice and does not expect huge pats on his back. He said he came to work every day because he loved the challenges of the legal profession very much. He still does.
He looks back on almost 50 years as a lawyer and keeps memories and friendship of his community in mind. He said one day he was just getting started and the next it was time to leave.
The office, said Diane, will be empty by the end of the month. Travel, fishing, home projects and supporting the feet are now on the agenda.
“Forty-eight years passed quickly,” said this lawyer. “Too fast.”