Folded and framed, a United States flag flown over the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C., was presented to the family of former U.S. Attorney William “Billy” Kimbrough last month.
Kimbrough passed away in March 2017 after a long illness, but was celebrated during an event Jan. 19 in Mobile organized by current U.S. Attorney Richard Moore’s office. It was attended be a number of former and current federal prosecutors and judges who worked with or for Kimbrough during his time at the Southern District of Alabama.
Outside of a long career in the private sector, Kimbrough — a Selma native and longtime resident of Mobile — served as an assistant U.S. Attorney in John F. Kennedy’s administration before being appointed to lead the Mobile office by President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981.
According to Mobile Bar Association president David Michael Huggins, Kimbrough was an “inclusive individual” who was “always looking out for the underdog” as a federal prosecutor and private attorney with the Turner, Onderdonk, Kimbrough, Howell, Huggins and Bradley firm.
As a member the Alabama Democratic Executive Committee in 1966, Kimbrough cast the deciding vote allowing African-Americans to become members of the party.
He also hired the Mobile office’s first black and female assistant U.S. Attorneys when he made Thomas Figures and Ginny Granade part of his staff during his four-year tenure. Granade went on to become a federal judge in the Southern District — a position she still holds today.
At the ceremony, Granade recalled working under Kimbrough — a man she said could go from being “mad as a hornet” to being “sweet as pie” in an instant. She also expressed gratitude for Kimbrough giving her her start in a time when women weren’t as welcome in Southern law firms.
“I must have knocked on the door of every law firm in Mobile, and was told, point blank by one lawyer in a bluestocking firm, ‘you will not find a job in a law firm in Mobile because you’re a woman,’” Granade said. “I thoroughly enjoyed working for Billy. He was just wonderful to me and I do thank him for sending my career in the right direction.”
Others, including former assistant U.S. Attorney E.T. Rolison, remembered Kimbrough for the changes he made at the local office during his brief time at the helm. Rolison, who worked in the office for decades, said Kimbrough changed a practice of reconstituting the staff after a new appointment.
He and Granade said Kimbrough pushed the office to take on more complicated cases, such as those involving political corruption, banking fraud and large drug operations. He also said Kimbrough was willing to do what was right no matter who it involved.
“This is what I take from my time with him: He had to prosecute his friends, and he did it,” Rolison said. “He didn’t always like it, by he did it because that was his job, and he did it with honor.”
While the ceremony was partially a celebration of Kimbrough’s life and career, it was highlighted by the presentation of the U.S. flag to his wife of 58 years, Kay Kimbrough. She attended the ceremony with their children and a few other family members.
On occasion, the Department of Justice will fly a flag over its headquarters in Washington, D.C., for late officials and prosecutors. The flag presented to Kimbrough’s family was flown above the facility on Nov. 28, 2017, at the request of Moore’s office.
Speaking with Lagniappe, Moore — appointed by a Republican president — said doing so was an honor and way to look beyond the partisanship of current politics while honoring a man who was well respected in the Mobile area for many years.