Having tenaciously dedicated 81 years of his life to law, Clarence A. Boswell (LLM 24), at the honorable age of 102, distinguished himself as the senior-most practicing member of The Florida Bar. Even as he neared his 100th birthday two years ago, he continued to make his way into his Bartow office of Boswell & Dunlap to handle business.
“He enjoyed his work and was very good at it. He had clients who relied on him — from grandparents, parents, and families to businesses — and he felt an obligation to represent them,” said partner Don Wilson (JD 76). “Even though he stopped coming to the office over the past two years, he still tended to some of his clients.”
Boswell, who was born Dec, 6, 1902, died peacefully at home Feb. 22, 2005.
Affectionately called “Mr. B,” Boswell was often referred to as a gentleman’s gentleman and a lawyer’s lawyer, and was admired by colleagues as an ethical and vigorous litigator, a dedicated family man and a person of great faith.
“He was acknowledged as a lawyer with an impeccable reputation who had the wonderful demeanor of a Southern gentleman and the looks to go with it,” said Wilson. A full head of striking white hair was one of Boswell’s most marked features.
“He was famous for that hair, which he acquired early in life,” recalled Wilson. “There is a funny story about it. He was litigating a case in which a man was injured in a train wreck and suing the railroad. The man claimed a result of the accident was that his hair turned white, to which Clarence asked curiously, ‘So how exactly have you suffered from that?’”
Boswell made a name for himself by serving as defense counsel for the Atlantic Coastline Railroad and by representing the local school board from 1939 through the late ’70s, including through desegregation. He also garnered much attention as the lawyer who pulled off the largest land sale in Florida in the early ’70s. The single transaction between a Bartow family and a phosphate company totaled a whopping $101 million — undoubtedly a remarkable figure for that time period.
“Lawyers were fairly diverse back then,” said Wilson. “They didn’t specialize like they do today. In fact, Florida law students weren’t required to take a bar exam in his day.”
Boswell began his law career in 1924, joining the firm Wilson & Boswell, which was established in 1900 by his father, Judge Clarence Boswell, and partner Solon G. Wilson — grandfather of Don Wilson. The legacy of the firm continues as Boswell & Dunlap, which now celebrates 105 years of service and is recognized as the oldest firm in Polk County and among the oldest in Florida.
While sifting through dated files recently, Wilson came across a few of Boswell’s receipts from the time he served as state attorney during the Depression. Sent out of town by the governor to investigate failing banks, Boswell was required to stay in hotels for a week or so at a time. “His meals and hotel costs for one trip were just $25.67 for the week,” Wilson said.
Compensation also was quite different then. Boswell’s pay as the part-time state attorney during the late 20s and early 30s: $300 per month.
Lake Wales lawyer Robin Gibson (JD 62), who frequently found himself opposite Boswell in the courtroom, held high regard for his fellow Gator.
“He was the kind of adversary you secretly admired the whole time,” he said. “He would preside over the jury with his white hair and enormous presence while talking through clenched teeth. He just had a way about him.
“No one will be able to do it quite the way he did again,” said Gibson. “You can’t help but say he was someone you would model your life after.
“We are fortunate we had him for 102 years.”