There is an old Chinese saying, meant as an ominous warning, “May you live in interesting times.” Murray English has certainly lived those words to the fullest. As a member of the US Navy’s Construction Battalion in the 1950s, his unit provided logistical support for the scientists conducting tests of the Hydrogen Bomb at Bikini Atoll, making Murray an eye witness to the birth of the Atomic Age. In the 1960s, he volunteered for service in Vietnam, knowingly putting himself in harm’s way, because he had friends fighting there, and “They needed my help.” He was awarded chest ribbons for valor.
In all, Murray served three tours spanning 18 years in the military, and spent the rest of his working life in the construction business mostly in Texas. Eventually, it was time to come home to Georgia, but in many ways, this is when Murray’s real battles began. Murray’s modest savings were stolen and his belongings pilfered. There were bureaucratic red tape issues. Murray’s service records were lost and he could not prove his identity. He found himself alone with no money, no benefits, no home and no name. For 5 years Murray lived on the streets of Atlanta, ultimately finding refuge in a homeless shelter at night, and at a sympathetic bar during the day.
Until one day, Jeff Nix, an Atlanta attorney stopping by to visit with his friend, the bar’s owner, took an interest in Murray. The two men talked. Nix listened and wanted to help. But hearing Murray’s story and getting Murray to accept help were two different things. Even though Murray had compelling needs like undiagnosed TB and nothing to live for, he was still a proud man. It wasn’t easy to get him to allow Nix to help him. But the lawyer persevered and in a short period of time was able to restore Murray’s identity, his benefits and more importantly, Murray’s self esteem and will to live. Now Murray lives in a place of his own in an assisted living facility in Downtown Atlanta. As Murray puts it, “My lawyer got everything back for me. Got me my name back. Things I had spent years trying to accomplish, he was able to accomplish in less than a week. I was homeless, but now I have a home--thanks to my lawyer."
Jeffrey Nix is an attorney who took a personal interest in Murray's case and cut through the red tape and Texas state bureaucracy to restore Murray's identity and Veteran's benefits. Murray was penniless, homeless and there was clearly no money to be made in fees, but Nix has always had a soft spot for veterans. “First, I had three brothers who served in Vietnam. Second, I frequently represent veterans in the pursuit of disability claims, so I see firsthand the impenetrable bureaucracy veterans must battle. Finally, Murray had such a simple problem, how could anyone walk away and leave it unfixed? He just needed a state issued photo ID to prove his identity.” Murray’s benefits and rights were quickly restored once that was accomplished. “When I first met Murray he was walking dead. Now he has a reason to live, to breathe.”
“Lawyers are fixers. Why should the world think better about fixers who watch a broken system without fixing it? I am proud to have helped save Murray’s life. If cases like these change the way lawyers view themselves, then we can change the way people view lawyers.”
Jeffrey Nix works for Troutman Sanders LLP in Atlanta, Georgia.