I've always had a deep respect for Rush H. Limbaugh Sr., although I never met the man. I did speak to him on the telephone on occasion, when I did historical research for him.
In this article about Limbaugh, published September 20, 1994, in the Southeast Missourian, managing editor Joni Adams continued her series called "Profiles."
On most weekday afternoons when this photograph was taken, Rush H. Limbaugh could be found at his law office. He was considered the oldest practicing attorney in Missouri at that time. (Fred Lynch ~ Southeast Missourian)
AFTER 78 YEARS IN PRACTICE, RUSH LIMBAUGH STILL LOVES THE LAW
By Joni Adams
Rush H. Limbaugh apologizes for his memory -- and then proceeds to detail specific names and events from his distant past.
He is a walking history book, a modern-day marvel.
On Sept. 27, Limbaugh plans to quietly celebrate his 103rd birthday anniversary. A humble gentleman, he can't understand all the fuss, although he enjoys a chance to talk about the old days.
He sits straight in his chair, looking dapper in a dark blue suit. He speaks clearly in measured words about events dating back to the turn of the century. He smiles fondly as he visualizes the people and places of his past.
Failing eyesight and heart problems have slowed him down these past two years. He suffered a severe heart attack July 1, 1992, and has had two minor attacks in recent months.
But he can still be found at his law firm most weekday afternoons. He is considered the oldest practicing attorney in Missouri. His handshake remains firm, his will resolute. His wit is still quick.
A family name
He grew up on a "hill and bottom farm" on Little Muddy Creek in Bollinger County. The land was settled by his great-grandfather in 1811. The family raised wheat, corn, hay and millet.
Limbaugh was the youngest of three brothers and three sisters.
His first name, Rush, was frequently used by the family's colonial Virginia stock. His middle name, Hudson, came from his grandparents. He was perhaps named for a Rush Hudson who died as young man in Perry County.
He joked with a favorite law school professor by the name of Manley O. Hudson that perhaps they were related.
"He asked me if I ever stopped to think that our ancestors who came from the eastern coast were horse thieves, bank robbers and other lawbreakers. I never pursued the subject any further with him."
Learning about tragedy
Limbaugh learned early on the meaning of tragedy.
His father died of tuberculosis, then called consumption, at age 54 when Limbaugh was but 7.
He remembers his father as an energetic, hardworking farmer with a large family to feed. Limbaugh's father battled the disease about a year and a half before dying.
Three years later, two of his sisters -- then ages 20 and 24 -- died of the same illness.
But family tragedy didn't stop Limbaugh's mother from tending to sick neighbors.
"My mother was fearless," he says with a smile.
"The year my father died, my mother assisted in taking care of a family who lived about a mile from us where the disease of spinal meningitis had struck. Several family members were stricken at the same time, and many people were afraid to go, but my mother didn't hesitate. She rode horseback there and back, taking care of things back home as best she could."
He remembers watching his mother spinning yarn on a large wheel after supper, yarn that would be used for mittens and socks.
Following a dream
His love of the law extends back to age 10, the year he memorized a Daniel Webster oration and recited it before classmates.
"It stirred your patriotic blood," he says, leaning forward on his knees. "I was grateful for the experience of reciting some of the great orations of the time."
It was then he decided to become a lawyer when he grew up, quite an ambition for a young man with little money who was attending a one-room schoolhouse in Bollinger County.
"I became very determined at that time to become a lawyer, although I didn't know how it was done or what I would have to do," he says. "Everyone at home encouraged me, especially my mother."
His older sister, Lillie, became a country school teacher. From her, Limbaugh said, he received lasting inspiration to follow his dream.
When studies at the one-room school became repetitive, Lillie told her brother about a high school at Millersville that offered two grades above the country school.
He completed the next year and a half at Millersville and then enrolled at what was called the Normal School at Cape Girardeau. A new domed structure had been completed just two years prior, replacing the original building that had burned.
He arrived in town by horse-drawn wagon and "was thrilled beyond expression at the site of that dome."
At that time, the purpose of the Normal School was to train teachers. It was Limbaugh's plan to spend a year there and then earn money teaching to attend law school.
At age 16, he began teaching in a one-room school called Lone Grove near Scopus.
"I was hired by the director largely because of my year at the Normal School, but he wondered if he had made a mistake to hire a boy of 16," he says. "One old farmer wouldn't send his kids to be taught by another kid. Except for that, I got along splendidly with the others."
Correspondence with various colleges paid off. The president of Washington & Lee University at Lexington, Va., told young Limbaugh he would see to it the young boy could work his way through school.
That summer, Limbaugh helped out on the family farm because one of his brothers had developed typhoid fever. His brother recovered, and Limbaugh set out for school with hardly any money.
But just days after his arrival, Limbaugh took ill.
His fever reached 104. The doctor diagnosed typhoid fever. He was told either he could stay in bed 10 or 12 weeks in Lexington or return home.
A heartbroken, feverish Limbaugh boarded the train that night. On the trip home, he was racked by terrible chills.
"I was scared, of course. People died all around from typhoid fever. I had another severe chill when I got home, and the doctor told me I had a severe case of malaria."
It took six weeks for his recovery. By then, the law school option had slipped away.
Down but not out
Limbaugh was down, but not out.
He resumed classes at the Normal School, earning money for his room and board on the side by working on a farm. Enrollment was $15 a semester, which Limbaugh jokes was considered high at the time.
He filled his hours with work and debate and public speaking practice. At the end of his first year back, he won the Regents medal in declamation. The five contestants competed before a large audience from school and town.
Suddenly, Limbaugh's eyes blaze and he begins to recite the last paragraph of that winning oration. He punctuates the words with his hand, his voice rising.
The final words seem to hang in the air, interrupted by the applause of an amazed visitor. He just smiles, almost embarrassed by the acclaim.
"I was always good at remembering things I liked."
Although Limbaugh is considered one of the most famous alumni of the Normal School (now Southeast Missouri State University), he never earned a degree. He had attended four years in all but was preparing again for law school. He didn't take all the necessary course work to earn his teaching degree.
Limbaugh met his future wife, Bee Seabaugh, when they were but 9 years old.
"She was the greatest thing that ever happened to me," he says with feeling. "I fell in love with her when we were 17. That prevented me from ever having a date with any other girl."
Bee was a friend of Rush's cousin. Even as youngsters, parallel tragedies drew them together. Their fathers, who were both farmers, died the same year of the same disease. They were born the same year, although she was five months older, and both grew up in Bollinger County.
Over the years, they met occasionally but were never close.
"I was looking at her all the time, but she was looking at somebody else," he teases.
When he returned to the Normal School, Limbaugh said he sent Bee a "timid little post card." She wrote back of her plans to attend the Normal school baccalaureate.
It was their first date.
Over the next three years, they dated sporadically. He popped the question. She promised to marry him the summer of 1911.
"I went home that night to tell my mother, and she told me it was the best news she'd ever heard." He smiles broadly at the memory.
It was just becoming common for those who could afford it to give a little diamond ring to signify an engagement. Limbaugh saved up for a year, and presented her with a ring the following Christmas.
They were married Aug. 29, 1914. There was no money for a big wedding. They were both 23 years old.
They headed to Columbia, where Limbaugh would finally realize his dream of law school.
Their first child, Marguerite, was born in 1915. Next came Rush Jr., father of national talk show celebrity Rush Limbaugh III. Manley was born two years after the family returned to Cape Girardeau.
Daniel Francis was born in 1924. He died five months later of pneumonia. It wasn't the only tragedy the young family would endure. A short time later, 10-year-old Marguerite died from an infection that started from a pimple on her chin.
"It's something that drugs would cure today in an hour, but they had nothing to use at that time. Gradually she faded away, the poor sweet thing. It was a most grievous time for us."
He sits quietly for a moment.
Their last child was Stephen, born in 1927.
Both Rush Jr. and Stephen went on to become attorneys. Rush Jr. died in 1990. Stephen is a U.S. District Court judge. Manley taught general science at Chester, Ill., high school until his recent retirement.
Limbaugh also has four grandsons in the legal profession, including one on the Missouri Supreme Court.
His marriage to Bee lasted 63 years until her death in 1977.
Not a day goes by that he doesn't think of her.
The search for justice
In the summer of 1916, Limbaugh started practicing law in Cape Girardeau with the firm of Davis and Hardesty. Both were old gentlemen of the law who came from Delaware. They had both come to town to teach at the Normal School. Limbaugh paid them $50 for a chair and table, and most of the summer was spent chasing collections.
His first case was before a justice of the peace. It was a suit on an account to collect. It was bitterly contested by the prosecuting attorney, who also did general practice.
"Are you going to embarrass me by asking the amount?"
The verdict was for $35.
His first case of importance involved a 17-year-old who was injured while dredging the Diversion Channel. He injured his knee and hip and broke his leg.
A deal was concocted by the insurance company, a local businessman appointed the young man's guardian and two leading law firms. The boy "won" a judgment of $250.
But then the boy took an infection and lost his leg.
"I couldn't believe an injustice like that had been perpetrated. I said, 'We've got to do something.'"
Other attorneys tried to dissuade Limbaugh, saying there was nothing that could be done since the case had been settled. But he vowed to have the judgment set aside.
It was his first case he argued before the Missouri Supreme Court, one of 52 of his career that went to the state's highest court on appeal.
It confirmed Limbaugh's thirst for justice.
"Under the law, you can't put through a fast one like that," he fumes, his outrage still fresh after all these years.
A lawyer for 78 years
Limbaugh worked on a number of cases of importance, including the controversial effort that created Lake Wappapello. He represented the county court (now called county commission) of Wayne County for more than 10 years on the matter. He also worked for years to pave the legal way for oil and natural gas pipelines that would eventually crisscross the country.
But his proudest moment was a trip to India in 1958, representing the U.S. government.
He was one of only two lawyers chosen by the American Bar Association to lead a lecture tour on American democracy. India had just declared its independence from Great Britain and was working to develop its constitution.
The tour lasted from Nov. 20 to Dec. 31, and Limbaugh says it was the hardest work he has ever done. He presented formal discussions on 23 different subjects relating to government and law.
He's also proud of the fact he served as president of the Missouri Bar Association in 1955.
Limbaugh has never regretted his decision to pursue the law.
As you might expect, there has been a world of changes in the law since he acquired his degree July 3, 1916. Many of the changes, he says, have improved the law.
But he still thinks the system allows for justice.
"We make mistakes in the administration of the law. But the last great chance one has to secure justice is in the courts of our country."
On several occasions, he was urged to pursue a position on the bench, but he declined. He wanted to practice law, and practice he has for 78 years.
"I practice what little I'm able to do. The last three years, I've been handicapped because I've almost lost my eyesight."
But he perseveres. Materials are read to him or retyped with larger print.
As long as he is able, this amazing gentleman will be found at the office, ready to help those in need.
He remains unassuming, crediting any successes he has had to teachers, family members, friends, lawyers and others who have helped him over the years.
Limbaugh just wants to be known as an honest lawyer who believes in justice.