Bart Durham, longtime Nashville lawyer seen on hundreds of billboards, TV ads, dies at 89 (2024)

Bart Durham, the longtime Nashville personal injury attorney recognized across Music City and beyond for his ubiquitous and often over-the-top ads on billboards, TV screens and newspapers, died Tuesday. He was 89.

The firm he founded nearly 50 years ago, Bart Durham Injury Law, announced Durham's death Tuesday afternoon. In a statement, Blair Durham called his father "a legendary figure in the local legal community and a beloved patriarch to our family."

"Beyond being the founding force and public face of Bart Durham Injury Law, he was, at his core, a dedicated husband, father, and grandfather. His tireless commitment to justice, unparalleled work ethic, and boundless generosity have left an enduring impact on our family, our firm, and the countless lives he touched," he said.

Fellow personal injury attorney Rocky McElhaney remembered Durham fondly.

"Few things are as synonymous with Nashville as Bart Durham," McElhaney said. "His legacy is selfless service to the people of our community. He's helped thousands of people and that's a life well lived."

Bart Durham was born on March 5, 1935 to mother Nelle (Pierson) Durham and father B.C. Durham, an attorney with whom he got his first start in the law practice. He was raised in Ripley, Tennessee. His law firm's obituary describes him as a "small-town boy with humble beginnings who attributed his life's successes to hard work, others' investments in him and luck."

After serving two years in the U.S. Army, Durham went to college at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and earned his degree from Southern Law University in Memphis. After graduating, he passed the bar in 1963 and went to his hometown to practice law with his father.

Soon after, he worked as a prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice in Memphis. He previously told The Tennessean that he helped oversee the federal prosecution of James Earl Ray, the man who shot Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

"Bart’s modest self-esteem as 'a nobody' and 'night law school graduate' – compared to his 'smarter, more experienced, and certainly more sophisticated' colleagues – fueled his work ethic to arrive at the office early and leave late. It also instilled a habit he kept throughout his life: to reflect and remember how lucky he was," his obituary says.

Durham moved to Nashville in 1969 for a position as a prosecuting attorney in the Tennessee Attorney General's Office. While there, he argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, which he considered among his proudest accomplishments, his obituary says.

In 1975, Durham went into private practice with his peer Henry Haile with little money, "the optimism of youth and high hopes." He represented thousands of personal injury cases and was named a senior counselor by the Tennessee Bar Association.

Not long after, he became the first lawyer to advertise his services in print, on radio and TV, which he continued to do for years. Many will remember his law firm's hallmark serial soap opera ads in the mid-to-late 2000s, which entertained — and maybe confused — viewers with "scantily clad women," "'Miami Vice'-style boats" and a "never-ending plot," as The Tennessean put in 2007.

In his personal life, too, Durham had a "fondness for flair," his obituary says. He enjoyed flying, "entering the ring as a wrestling ringside manager alongside Regina Hale" and attending Ferrari racing meets. He founded the Tennessee Chapter of the Ferrari Club of America in 1997 and served as its president and the regional director of the Southeast Region.

Bart Durham, longtime Nashville lawyer seen on hundreds of billboards, TV ads, dies at 89 (2)

Durham was a member of Nashville Korean Presbyterian Church along with his wife Cindy (Sin Young Kang) Durham. He is survived by Cindy, children Colin and Michele (Falletta) Durham, Blair and Kelley (Bean) Durham and his grandchildren Ethan and Adelynn.

According to his obituary, Durham continued working until his passing because of "his love for work, and for fear of getting bored."

A visitation is set for Tuesday, April 16 at 10 a.m. at Woodmont Christian Church, followed by a celebration of life at noon. In lieu of flowers or gifts, his family requests that donations of time and resources be shared with Heart'n Soul Hospice.

"As we navigate this period of mourning, we simultaneously celebrate the extraordinary life he led — marked by flair, laughter, and a genuine love for community. My family and I are grateful for the overwhelming support during this challenging time," Blair Durham said.

Evan Mealins is the justice reporter for The Tennessean. Contact him atemealins@gannett.comor follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter,@EvanMealins.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Bart Durham, longtime Nashville lawyer on hundreds of billboards, dies

Bart Durham, longtime Nashville lawyer seen on hundreds of billboards, TV ads, dies at 89 (2024)
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