Harrison County

Clare Sekul Hornsby was ‘an inspiration, a role model, a mentor’

Clare Sekul Hornsby had a huge impact on her nephew, Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich.

Hornsby, a prominent Biloxi attorney, died Tuesday at age 95 in Biloxi.

Her death comes after complications following a fall a few months ago, Gilich said. “It was probably about three months ago. She spent a number of weeks in the hospital. They looked over surgery options and she got a brace and came home.

“She had said she wanted to live to 105 and die at her desk,” Gilich said. “For me, on my mother’s side, she was the last of the family. She was an inspiration right to the end.”

Hornsby was a graduate of Ole Miss School of Law in 1945, the only woman in her class. She spent more than 60 years practicing law and was a partner at Sekul, Hornsby, Tisdale in Biloxi.

“She was the second female graduate of the University of Mississippi’s School of Law, and (former Mississippi lieutenant governor) Evelyn Gandy was her roommate. I believe it was my wife who asked her one time, ‘Aunt Clare, why did you go to law school?’ And she said, ‘My mother said I was going to law school.’ She was always an example of leadership,” Gilich said.

She administered Gilich’s oath of office in 2015.

For niece Jaye Brice, Hornsby was a lifelong role model.

“How do you describe a legend?” Brice said. “She was an inspiration, a role model, a mentor. She was all that to me and so many others. When I was growing up, I didn’t know there was any such thing as a glass ceiling. I had an aunt who was a lawyer, and I just knew that I could be anything I wanted to be.”

Family law

Adoptions and divorces made up a good portion of her cases.

“Her car tag said ‘DVORCE,’” Gilich said. “My Aunt Clare always wanted to make things right. She wanted to make things right when a woman wasn’t treated right. There’s story after story. When the family was together at Thanksgiving, we were talking about those stories and the lives she had touched.”

While Hornsby was known as a tough attorney who would fight for her client, she also was a strong advocate for marriage, Brice said.

“At the beginning, she would sit down with them and ask, ‘Is there any room for reconciliation?’ She wanted to bring people back together if at all possible,” she said. “People always came first.”

Harrison County Youth Court Judge Margaret Alfonso said Hornsby “did many, many adoptions through the years — hundreds, if not thousands.” The Biloxi attorney had a special concern for abused and neglected children, she said. “She never turned away anyone who was seeking permanent adoption of a child.

“I think it was her love of family and her own family” that drove Hornsby’s desire to see children in stable families, Alfonso said. “She felt that all children need family and roots. Roots in a family was very important to Clare. She knew that children need a sense of belonging in a community, and she was very active in the community. She loved Biloxi and the entire Gulf Coast.

“There’s going to be a hole, and I don’t think that anyone will fill it again. She was a true trailblazer. She set a standard for women in our profession. We all had Clare to look up to,” Alfonso said.

Hornsby was a pioneer in other ways, especially in the late 1940s and the ‘50s.

“She had a couple of chairs in front of her desk” in her first office in Biloxi, Brice said. “Back then, there was a separate waiting area for black people for the offices in the building, but she had them come into her office to wait instead. Word got around. They’d say, ‘You go to Mrs. Hornsby, you get to sit in the same chairs as the white people.’”

Upon hearing of her death Tuesday morning, Walter Blessey said when Hornsby was younger, she used to carry around a starter pistol that fired blanks. When she arrived at an event, “She would fire off a couple of rounds just to let people know she was there.”

The Chancery Court had a sign-up sheet that determined the order of cases, Blessey said. Hornsby didn’t follow that order.

“She went right to the front — and they took her,” Blessey said.

Help in later years

Grandson Dub Hornsby, himself an attorney, had been helping to ease his grandmother’s case load, even as she was going into the office every day into her 90s.

“We had to revamp her practice a few times in the later years,” he said. “My law partner, Mark Watts, and I would help her with the more contentious cases, but the one thing she said she would not stop doing was the adoption cases. In fact, there are three adoption cases in her office right now, and we’ll be taking those over now. It was so important to her to put a child with a family.”

If she couldn’t take on a case, she would call lawyer after lawyer she knew to urge them to take it on, he said.

“By the time I started practicing, she was more a family advocate than a bulldog,” he added. “I’d say that in the past 15 years, more than half of her (adoption) cases she did for free. If people had a real need, she just saw it through. She had a husband who was able to help set her up. She didn’t practice law for the money, that’s for sure.”

Steve McCall, a former Coast resident, recalled Hornsby’s help.

“She finalized our son’s adoption. He was 9 at the time. He said what he wanted for Christmas (this was 2014) was to get out of DHS custody. When we met Mrs. Hornsby, I told my son, Todd, that she is Mrs. Santa Claus and was going to make that happen. While my wife and I were talking to her clerk, Carol, Mrs. Hornsby talked with Todd to make sure he was comfortable with the adoption. I will never forget her compassion and caring for him.”

One trait his grandmother had especially made an impression on Dub Hornsby.

“She felt emotion deeply but not for long,” he said. “She would move on. She might be upset about something for five, 10 minutes and that was it. She had a great ability to process that stuff and not let it stay with her, and I think that’s one thing that helped her live to 95.”

Stockings and pins

Hornsby had two trademarks, Gilich said.

“Her stockings, and she had this mouse lapel pin that she wore everywhere,” he said. “And she would correct me about my name tag, to wear it on my right side. She knew about all those things.”

Those two things were suggestions from her husband, Warren, Brice said.

“I believe both of them, and the wild stockings for sure, were things her husband thought would be good luck for her, would set her apart from the men in the courtroom.” she said. “Wild” included bright colors and seasonal designs, such as Christmas trees and pumpkins.

“On any of our travels, we would look for stockings for her, and others would too,” Brice said.

Hornsby instituted a family tradition, Saturday morning breakfast, Dub Hornsby said.

“I was one of her first grandchildren, and I was about 2 years old when she started doing this, and I’m 39, almost 40 now,” he said. “Every Saturday morning since I was 2 years old. It started out with four or five people and up to the last few years, it’s gotten to 40, 45. It’s a very special time we got to have with Paw Paw and Clay-Clay — that’s what I always called her.”

Hornsby and Brice were both involved in the Biloxi Lions Club, and Hornsby was program chairman for “at least 25 years,” Brice said. She said her aunt considered giving back to the community a priority.

“If the phone rang, my husband would say, ‘Don’t answer it. That might be Aunt Clare asking you to join another club.’ And sometimes it was,” she said.

One word that family and friends used to describe Hornsby is “amazing.”

“She was an amazing, loving person,” grandson Dub Hornsby said. “And she was married to an amazing, loving person until his death about 20 years ago. I know she’s happy to be with up there with him now. She used to say all the time about something, ‘Your grandpa would have loved this.’ ”

Kate Magandy contributed to this report.

Tammy Smith: 228-896-2130, @Simmiefran1

Hornsby file

Who: Clare Sekul Hornsby.

Profession: Lawyer since May 28, 1945. Partner, Sekul Hornsby Tisdale, Howard Avenue, Biloxi.

Education: Biloxi High School, Perkinston Junior College, Ole Miss, undergraduate and law school.

Family: Married to the late Warren Hornsby 51 years. Children: W. Fred Hornsby; Clare "Susie" Bass; Warren Hornsby Jr.; Jasna Yenewine. Nine grandchildren, one great-grandchild.

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