By Shelby Leonard
In the corner office, on the highest floor of the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center building, the man Baylor law students call “the Godfather” stands looking out his window.
The panoramic view is striking. He can see the campus, the Brazos River and, across the river, the foundation for what will be the new Baylor stadium. How did he get to this pinnacle?
As he gazes outward, his thoughts turn inward and he begins to share his journey.
The legacy built by Dr. David Guinn is a rich one, intertwined with the history of Guinn’s life and interwoven with Baylor’s culture, which has earned him the title “the Godfather” by his colleagues and students.
Guinn was born and raised in Cleburne, a small town just south of Fort Worth. His father was the high school principal and his mother was a “house maker.”
Guinn said everybody lived in a small town in the 1950s.
“We all got up and went to church on Sunday,” Guinn said. “We all played football. That was the big imperative, that you play football.”
Guinn has a bookshelf full of war books, and looking at them, he recalled all of his football coaches had been World War II heroes.
“I think back on that and on all the fine people I had in the public schools here,” Guinn said. “They helped us out, made us what we are today.”
Playing in Friday night football games earned Guinn a football scholarship to Baylor, where he studied political science and then law.
“I loved Dr. Miller’s course in constitutional law,” Guinn said. “You take it now, it’s Political Science 2302.”
He went home to tell his mother he had decided to major in history and political science, and she said, “Well, Sweet, I hope you’re going to law school, otherwise you’re going to be poor.”
At the end of his junior year, Guinn decided he would attend law school at Baylor.
Guinn said he chose to focus on constitutional law because of his love for political science. He said it was “very, very, demanding. We started with about 83 students, and we had, I think, 53 to graduate.”
As a young southern boy, fresh out of law school, Guinn thrust himself into the political firestorm of the civil rights movement. He said he saw the movement toward equality spread like wildfire.
The movement reached its peak in the 1960s when the Supreme Court passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Constitutional law practice became a growing interest across the United States.
Guinn said his most memorable case was his first redistricting case in 1978. Young Guinn and Michael Morrison, now professor of law at Baylor, assisted a prominent lawyer in defending the case.
“A gentleman, an African-American gentleman, in Freestone County sued Freestone County in the United States District Court in Austin because they had not redistricted in 50 years,” Guinn said. “It took us a year and a half to work it out. We have now been through four census cycles. So that was the most important case to me.”
Years of practicing law were all preparation for the years he would teach law. More than 47 years of lessons live in his memory. Guinn is in his 48th year of teaching courses at Baylor School of Law. He also served as faculty representative to the Southwest and the Big 12 athletic conferences from 1986-2001. Although Guinn has taught other courses, he is primarily known for his course in constitutional law.
Professor Mike Rodgers, faculty athletic representative, is Guinn’s colleague and longtime friend. Rodgers said Guinn has taught someone everywhere.
“Because David has taught most of the Baylor lawyers that are still practicing law, we have a network that is unbelievable,” Rodgers said. “Everyone knows him and everyone respects him.”
Meredith Meyers, administrative associate of the law school dean’s office, said Guinn is a mentor to many of his former students.
“He is just that person that you want everyone to turn out to be,” Meyers said.
Meyers said Brad Toben, dean of Baylor Law School, said Guinn was his mentor. Leonard E. Davis, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas; Ed Kinkeade, United States District Judge; and Baylor Professor Louis Muldrow are just a few of the students taught by Guinn.
When Guinn reviewed his life’s achievements, he said it was easy to decide what he considers his greatest accomplishment.
“It would be the privilege of having taught thousands of young men and women in this law school, and then to see them go out and become fine lawyers, federal judges, state judges, superb prosecutors,” Guinn said.
Guinn makes it a priority to connect with every one of his students, said third-year law student, Collin Powell.
Powell said Guinn remembers his students long after they leave his classroom. When alumni come back to visit, Guinn does not only remember when they were in his class but what seat they sat in. He said Guinn has a way of teaching that is unique and memorable.
“Everyone in the last 50 years has had Professor Guinn for constitutional law,” Powell said. “He has made his mark on people. He has stamped his name on our constitutional law conscience as we go out and practice.”
Guinn is able to teach the law so well because he has experienced its evolution. He has been teaching long enough to see the law has changed in the past 50 years and he is probably able to predict it is going to change in the future, Powell said.
Guinn said he has enjoyed his years of teaching and he looks forward to continuing to teach for many years.
“I want to be like Oliver Wendell Holmes,” Guinn said. “I want to stay healthy and vigorous until I’m 90 years old. Holmes stayed on the United States Supreme Court until he was 90. And I want to stay healthy and whole, and I love my job, I love my students, my colleagues.”
When he sits in his black leather chair, leans back, and closes his eyes, the Godfather has a perfect view of the future.