Louis Hatcher '90, and his wife Ovaline, have been Cumberland supporters for many years. Recently they helped initiate the new Law Student Emergency Assistance Fund (LEAF) that supports Cumberland students in need. And, there will soon be a newly renovated classroom in Robinson Hall, thanks to their generosity. Here's their story and why they give back to Cumberland School of Law.
Tell us your personal Cumberland story and what led you to choose Cumberland for your law degree.
From the earliest time I can remember, I loved watching Perry Mason and wanted to be a trial attorney like him. I was the first and only person in my family to attend college, and really had little idea what to look for in a law school. A friend mentioned to me that Cumberland had a great reputation as a law school with respect to preparing litigators, so I applied.
Ty Warren, who was then assistant dean, contacted me and asked that I come up for a visit and to bring my wife, Ovaline, and our son. When we arrived, I was struck by the beauty of the campus. There was a light drizzle that day, so I pulled up outside the law school and asked my wife to keep our son in the truck while I met with Dean Warren – both because we did not have an umbrella and because I did not think it wise to have my rambunctious one-year-old running around the halls of the law school or in Dean Warren’s office. When I met with Dean Warren he asked if I brought my wife and son, and I told him why I asked them to wait in the truck. He asked me where I parked and grabbed an umbrella and went and brought them to his office. I was very impressed that he placed so much value on meeting them and not making them sit outside. After we talked for a while, he asked us to walk around the campus and see various buildings, and then to come back and meet with him again. We had his umbrella when we went out and it was still drizzling. We were looking for the student cafeteria and asked a student who was passing if he could tell us in what direction we needed to go. He started to tell us and then said, “It’s a little confusing, so let me walk you there.” He had no umbrella and I told him he need not walk with us and get wetter, but he insisted. I told my wife then, in light of the way Dean Warren had welcomed us, and the young man had gone out of his way to help us, there was no question I wanted to spend my three years of law school in that kind of environment. I never considered another law school from that point forward.
Why did you choose to initiate/support the newly established Law Student Emergency Assistance Fund (LEAF) at Cumberland?
When my wife, son, and I left our hometown for Cumberland, we borrowed a horse trailer and loaded what little furniture we had, and started out with about $500 cash to our name. When we arrived in Birmingham we located an apartment we thought we could afford, but did not have the money to pay first and last month’s rent and a security deposit. I talked the landlord into letting us just pay the first month’s rent. My wife and I immediately set about finding employment, but within a few days of having arrived in Birmingham, we received word my grandmother had passed. I was very close to my grandmother, but we simply did not have the money to even buy the gas to make the trip home for the funeral. A family member came through for us and we were able to make the trip.
God has blessed Ovaline and me since those early days, and we have a soft heart for those of our students who find themselves in a bad situation and have nowhere to turn for help. Many of them do not have family or friends who are capable of helping. The demands of law school are difficult enough without feeling helpless in an emergency situation, and I hope our students never have to feel they are without hope and a place to turn for help. The LEAF can provide that source of hope and help.
What do you hope the law students who receive support take away from this new fund?
I hope they feel the love I always felt as a student at Cumberland. It may sound kind of corny to say that I love Cumberland, but I do. There was always a caring and compassionate spirit among the faculty, administration, and students, and I am so thankful that caring and compassionate atmosphere has been nurtured and continues to exist to this day. I believe that by demonstrating to our students by our actions (in the form of, among other things, the LEAF) that we love and appreciate them, they will become loyal alumni and help to continue that special atmosphere that helps Cumberland stand head and shoulders above all other law schools in that regard.
Why did you choose to sponsor and name classroom 123 in Robinson Hall?
In addition to what I have said above about my love for Cumberland, I have long believed for a number of reasons that I owed a debt to Cumberland. I was blessed to attend a law school with the caring and compassionate atmosphere that I have mentioned. I had outstanding professors, and a multitude of opportunities to participate in mock trial and moot court competitions, and was fortunate to be selected for Cumberland’s ABA Mock Trial Team where I received invaluable coaching with respect to courtroom presentation. Very importantly, I attended Cumberland on a scholarship, without which it would have been difficult for me to attend law school.
While we have given as we could over the years, Ovaline and I had hoped at some point to be able to make a contribution that would be commensurate with our love and gratitude for Cumberland. God provided us the ability to do that late this past year, and we decided to sponsor and name a classroom. We hope the renovations will help to attract students to Cumberland, and provide a better learning environment for our students.
The reason I specifically chose classroom 123 was that it was the classroom in which I had my very first class, which occurred in a summer session in which my section participated prior to the fall start. The first day I had pulled my old pickup truck into the parking lot that was then outside that classroom. I noticed I had the oldest, roughest looking vehicle in the lot. I walked into the classroom wearing jeans, boots, and a work shirt, and quickly noted I was the worst-dressed student in the classroom. I questioned whether I could compete with the other students, and wondered if I really belonged in law school. I suddenly had a strong urge to get in my truck, pick up my wife and son, and head back home. I silently prayed, “Lord, I am putting out a fleece. If the professor walks in and looks at me, and says, ‘Sir, I need to start class, so you’ll need to go back outside and finish mowing,’ I will know I do not belong here and I’ll leave and head home. But if he doesn’t, I’ll take that as a sign that this is where you want me.” When Professor Jack Nelson walked into the classroom he talked with us, but did not ask me to leave, and then he began teaching. Neither he nor the students looked down upon me and they were all very kind. I stayed, and spent a wonderful three years at Cumberland.
What do you hope your recipients gain through the support of the renovated/newly named classroom?
I would not my trade my Cumberland experience for anything, and I believe they will feel the same way if they will plug in and live the experience to the fullest. Hopefully, Ovaline and I can help make their experience just a little more special by providing an improved environment for their classroom instruction. We also hope this will help early on to encourage them to commit to giving back to Cumberland when and as they are able.
What would you want current and future Cumberland students to know about the person(s) for whom classroom 123 is named?
That I am blessed and so grateful that God allowed my path to becoming an attorney to be through Cumberland School of Law. All my life when I have needed an encouraging word, or a helping hand, someone has been there to provide it. I hope that I have been and will continue to be a person whom God can depend upon to offer those encouraging words and helping hands to others.
Tell us about a special moment while you were a student at Cumberland or about your favorite Cumberland tradition.
There were so many, but my most special moment was walking across the stage at graduation. My father died when I had just turned 15, and my mother took on the task of finishing rearing my two younger sisters and me who were still at home. She regularly worked 12-hour days, six days a week and did without a lot so we could pay off bills from my father’s illness and have what we needed. Every minute of the hard work, the anxiety, and the lost sleep involved in obtaining my law degree was all forgotten when I looked out at my mother when they called my name and I walked across the stage to be hooded. It was a bittersweet occasion though, because it was the conclusion of a very special period in my life.
Tell us what Cumberland School of Law has meant to you as an alumnus.
I have been able to stay involved through service as a former president of a local alumni group, judging in mock trial competitions hosted by Cumberland, and for several years now as a member of the Cumberland Advisory Board. I am proud of Cumberland for nurturing and maintaining through the years the compassionate, family atmosphere that caused me to choose Cumberland and made my days there so special. As an alum, I try to serve Cumberland in any way I can, and make referrals to Cumberland grads anytime it is appropriate, because I know we have been trained to be competent, ethical, and passionate about our service as attorneys.