Texas Lawyer Walter Umphrey, Founder of Provost Umphrey, Dies at Age 85

Published 5:14 pm Tuesday, September 7, 2021

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Influential Beaumont benefactor practiced law for more than 50 years 

BEAUMONT, Texas – Legendary lawyer and philanthropist, Walter Umphrey, who led the Texas trial team that secured billions in a landmark settlement with Big Tobacco and who donated millions of dollars to charitable causes over the course of his lifetime, has passed away.

The 85-year-old died of natural causes in Beaumont, Texas on September 7, 2021.

“Walter Umphrey was more than just a lawyer,” said Joe Fisher, Managing Partner of Provost Umphrey, the law firm Mr. Umphrey co-founded. “He was a force in the community who used his considerable legal talents to help those who had been wronged by others. His passing is a profound loss for our community, the legal profession and the State of Texas.”

Walter Umphrey began his legal career more than 50 years ago, when he graduated from Baylor Law School and went to work as a prosecutor and then chief felony prosecutor in the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office in Beaumont. In 1969, he left the DA’s office and joined with fellow attorney, David Provost, to form the Provost Umphrey Law Firm, where he practiced until his retirement in 2016.

In 1998, Mr. Umphrey was lead counsel for the “dream team” of five law firms hired to represent the state of Texas in its historic lawsuit against the tobacco industry. In that case, the state received a $15.3 billion settlement.

A highly respected litigator, Mr. Umphrey earned multiple recognitions in major peer-reviewed legal guides, including The Best Lawyers in America and Texas Super Lawyers. He was honored as a “Legal Legend” by Texas Lawyer magazine and was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Texas Trial Lawyers Association. He was a fellow of both the International Society of Barristers and the Texas Bar Foundation and was a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA).

“A laundry list of awards will never do justice to Walter Umphrey, the lawyer and the man,” said Joe Fisher. “One of Walter’s most cherished accomplishments was his appointment to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission by Former Texas Governor, Ann Richards.”

His legal success afforded Mr. Umphrey, and wife, Sheila, the ability to make significant contributions to education and the environment. Some of the charitable contributions of Walter and Sheila Umphrey include:

  • The Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center at Baylor Law School, where the Umphreys provided the lead financial support;
  • The Sheila and Walter Umphrey Pedestrian Bridge, connecting the Baylor University campus to McLane Stadium;
  • The Sheila Umphrey Recreational Sports Center on the Beaumont campus of Lamar University, Mrs. Umphrey’s alma mater;
  • Provost Umphrey Stadium, also at Lamar University. As athletic department benefactors, Mr. and Mrs. Umphrey’s donation helped facilitate the return of football to the school;
  • Walter Umphrey State Park on Pleasure Island in Port Arthur. Mr. Umphrey purchased the land and donated it to Jefferson County.