By John J. Duncan Jr.
A few years ago, I was speaking to about 100 eighth graders in the Rayburn Room at the U.S. Capitol.
One of the students asked me if I liked my job. I immediately replied that I loved my job and felt very lucky to have it.
I then told the group that just the day before I had read a short Bible study that said if you didn’t feel fortunate to have your job, think how you would feel if you were fired that day,
You would probably wish you had that job back. But life goes by so fast, if you don’t appreciate the job you have, and especially if you hate it, you should try desperately to get into something else.
Fortunately, while every job I ever had had some bad parts, I loved every job, even my very early ones.
In high school, I worked as a groundskeeper at a ball park and as a bag boy at an A&P grocery store.
My first two years at UT, I worked as a salesman at Sears, both full and parttime. During my senior year, 1968-69, I worked fulltime as a reporter for the Knoxville Journal, which was our morning daily newspaper.
Both the A&P and Sears were strong national companies in those years and I thought very seriously about making my career with one of them.
The Journal was an exciting place to work, and I thought very seriously about a career as a newspaper reporter.
But I had always planned to go to law school and had been admitted as a fulltime day student at George Washington University.
However, my sister, Becky, saw an article that said the Alexandria, VA, school system had a teacher shortage and one of the things they needed was a Journalism teacher.
I had just received my degree in Journalism from UT, and not many, including even most newspaper reporters, got Journalism degrees in those days.
Sort of out of curiosity, I went to the Alexandria City Schools Office the next day, and they hired me to teach American Government and Journalism for $7,050 a year and $200 extra for advising the school newspaper.
I switched to the night law school at GW and went to school five nights a week and three hours on Saturday.
I loved teaching so much that at the end of that school year, I told my Dad I was going to give up law school and just teach fulltime.
That conversation lasted about 10 seconds, and I very reluctantly gave up the teaching job so I could go to law school fulltime and finish up sooner.
Staying in law school was the best decision, because I ended up having one of the most fascinating law practices anyone could ever have had.
There were a lot fewer lawyers in Knoxville in those days, and I got to handle a wide variety of cases, many of them very unusual. I found out that truth often is stronger than fiction.
I went into practice with Zane Daniel, one of the greatest trial lawyers in Tennessee, forming the firm of Daniel and Duncan.
Once, on an elevator with Zane and Herb Moncier, Herb said “Zane, all your clients come up here wearing bib overalls with mud on their boots.” Zane replied, “Yes, Herb, but they come up here with bibs just stuffed full of money.”
Then, Judge Joe Nigro, a Democrat, was having some health problems and wanted me to replace him. He said he would leave office before his term was up if I could be appointed to replace him.
I then got to serve almost 7 ½ years as Criminal Court Judge, trying the attempted murder of James Earl Ray and may other high-profile cases.
I worked very hard at all my jobs and I feel very lucky to have and all the jobs I had.