ERICKSON: Giants depart

April 4, 2014 

Buck Melton passed away last month. Word came to me while I was at a conference and I could not get home for his funeral. He will be sorely missed.

I worked at Buck Melton’s law firm, Sell & Melton. He and Ed Sell Jr. -- the Sell in the law firm’s name -- had a huge impact on Middle Georgia. Melton has gotten more notice over the years with both his book and his political career. Sell had a quieter career, but was just as impactful. While Melton guided the city, Sell guided the county. He did so through periods of turmoil in our community’s history.

Those of us fortunate to work with and for them learned a good deal about the law, but a great deal more about character. They were gentlemen’s gentlemen. They were old school, had lived through war and worked through and for desegregation.

I knew Melton better, if only because he and I were in the office more together. When Sell retired, I lucked into his old office. Though his name may have been on the door, he had a small office. It had the best view in the building though. On the 14th floor of the Fickling building, his office looked up Mulberry Street to the law school. In his book “Closing Arguments,” Melton referred to Sell as “the epitome of a classic old-school lawyer. Steady, calm and so smart.”

Ed Sell Jr. was Macon’s city attorney from 1947 to 1953, then became Bibb County’s attorney. He held that position from 1965 to 1999. Just look at those dates. From 1947 to 1999 -- from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton -- Sell guided and shaped Bibb County, helping steer this community toward its better angels. In the gap between being city attorney and county attorney, Sell served the Planning & Zoning Commission, more literally helping shape the city.

Melton fought in World War II, came home and took up a law practice. After Sell headed to the county, Melton became city attorney. In 1971, Melton became president of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce on his way to the mayor’s office in 1975. Unusual for a politician, Melton decided not to seek re-election. Then he did something unusual for Macon at the time. Sell, John Comer, Joseph Popper, Andrew McKenna, Carl Lancaster, Doye Green, Mitchel House and Melton combined their two separate law firms into one large firm.

Egos set aside, they simplified their name into Sell & Melton -- the county attorney and the former Macon mayor. Over the years, they have represented the Industrial Authority, Urban Development Authority, NewTown Macon, the Medical Center and many other individuals and organizations.

Through it all, though, these two men and their partners trained other lawyers, including Judge Jeffrey Hanson in the State Court and Judge Tilman Self in the Superior Court -- and me if they want to claim me. They trained not just the legal acumen of the new lawyers, but built up their character, too. On the golf course, in the firm meetings and in the hallways, Messrs. Sell and Melton showed not just intellectual curiosity, but compassion for souls.

Sell died in 2007, a year after I left practicing law. Melton had been a motivator for me to get out of practicing law and do those things I truly enjoyed. All of us are shaped and molded by greater men than ourselves. I am very fortunate to have crossed paths with two of the greatest.

Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.

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