Jack Moore started Vanderbilt Law School in 1970 because the U.S. Army had too many second lieutenants.
Like many men who attended college during the Vietnam War era, Moore had expected to enter military service as soon as he graduated. A native of Clanton, Alabama, Moore was studying banking and finance at the University of Alabama in the late 1960s when the Selective Service moved from inducting "the oldest man first" into service to a lottery system. Each man eligible for the draft was assigned a number based on the order in which his birth date was drawn in an annual lottery drawing. "Ones" would be called to service first; men with number 365 were unlikely to be inducted. "It's a number you never forget," Moore said. "Mine was 34, and that meant I was going to be drafted for sure." Rather than wait for the call, Moore joined the ROTC, an option that allowed him both to finish college and serve as an officer. He remembers the summer after his junior year of college, spent in basic training in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as one of the most miserable of his life.
Fortunately for Moore, by the time he graduated from college in 1970, President Richard Nixon was beginning to wind down U.S. involvement in the conflict. The Army had a surplus of green second lieutenants and offered Moore an educational deferment to attend law school. "Law school was not on my agenda until the Army offered to let me go," he said. Moore chose Vanderbilt over the other law schools where he was accepted because Admissions Dean John Beasley had convinced Moore that Vanderbilt was "by far the best school for me" and because it was nearest to Memphis, where Moore's fiancée, Betty Wilson, lived.
Moore had originally intended to return to Clanton and take over the family bank, People's Savings Bank, the largest bank in town, which had been founded by his great-grandfather in 1903. Moore's father and his uncle had both become doctors, and Moore had planned to one day succeed his great-grandfather as the bank's president. His plans changed after he met Betty on a blind date during college. Betty wanted to settle in her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, where her father, Kemmons Wilson, had founded the enormously successful Holiday Inn hotel chain. Any apprehensions Moore had about city life were dispelled when he started law school. "Nashville was the first city where I'd ever lived," Moore said. "It wasn't nearly as vibrant in the 1960s as it is now, but I really liked living in a larger town."
Vanderbilt held classes on Saturdays—"Yes, we had Saturday classes until noon," Moore recalled indignantly, "and even more horrible, we had to wear a dress shirt and tie to class every day"—and Moore spent most Saturday afternoons during his first year of law school speeding down I-40 to Memphis, where Betty had a teaching job, and returning to Nashville late Sunday night. The couple married the following summer, and Betty taught second grade at Oak Hill School until Jack graduated.
Law school was a revelation for Moore. "I loved being exposed to people with much more varied backgrounds than I'd experienced during undergraduate," he said. "Everyone was really bright, and I learned as much from my fellow classmates as I did from my teachers." His first year settled quickly into a routine of classes, studying and joining other law students at the Brig, an unlicensed beer joint some enterprising third-year students had opened in a rented house. "All they sold was beer, and it was predominantly habituated by law students," Moore said. "A group of us lived in the Americana Apartments, and we would study until midnight and then go to the Brig and have a couple of beers and play foosball. It was amazing what that break from studies did for all of us." Moore's nights at the Brig ended with his marriage in summer 1971. "I'm glad I wasn't married during my first year of law school, because being a first-year law student and learning to be a good husband at the same time would have presented—a complex challenge," he said. "But it was an equally good thing that I got married before my second year."
One rude awakening Moore recalls with both fear and fondness was his introduction to the Socratic method in Professor Paul Hartman's Contracts class. He and two classmates in his section who became lifelong friends, Sam Bartholomew and Tom Beasley, bonded under fire in Hartman's classroom. "His legend preceded him," Moore said. "D-Day on Omaha Beach didn't have as many casualties as there were in Hartman's Contracts class when 'the Dutchman' grilled all of us that first semester. I can laugh now, but some people actually avoided sitting in their assigned seats so they could pretend not to be there and just not answer if he called on them. He was like a Supreme Court Justice, up there firing off questions at you, and of course there was no right or wrong answer, so whatever you said, his next question was going to be worse. If you gave an answer he thought was way off base, he would say, 'Mr. Moore, that leaves a bitter brown taste in my mouth.' But all of us who were fortunate enough to have had him have great memories of his class."
Moore's experience in the cramped, windowless law school building into which the law school had moved in 1962 from its original location in Kirkland Hall played a role in his decision to chair the building committee in the late 1990s; their successful campaign doubled the size of the building. "I had a better locker in high school than I did in law school at Vanderbilt!" he said. "That first building was terrible. But by the time we finished that expansion project in 2002, we had one of the best law school buildings in the country."
After Jack's graduation, the Moores moved to Indianapolis, where Jack served for six months as a captain in the Adjutant General Corps to satisfy his military obligation. Several close friends at Vanderbilt, including Bartholomew and Beasley, had served in Vietnam. By the simple virtue of being four years younger, Moore's service as a general's aide at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis "meant I played golf three times a week and attended a lot of social events," he said. "I did have to stand guard duty, but it was a lot of fun."
When Jack was discharged, the Moores settled in Memphis, where he joined Martin Tate Morrow & Marston. He moved to Wildman Harrold Allen Dixon and McDonnell in 1977, and there he quickly formed the professional connection with Ben Rawlins (BA'61), then president of Memphis-based Union Planters Bank, that would make his career. Having grown up in a family of bankers, Moore not only understood banking, but he also shared Rawlins' vision of growth through judicious acquisitions. "Around that time, the archaic laws and regulations that prevented bank acquisitions across state lines were coming off the books," Moore said. "We thought the course of action for Union Planters was to grow through acquisitions, and we started down that road." Rawlins had asked Moore to join the Union Planters board of directors soon after he was named CEO of Union Planters in 1984, a role for which Moore was well-qualified; he was a major shareholder in his family's Clanton, Alabama, bank, and also sat on the board of a holding company for two Arkansas banks owned by his father-in-law. When Rawlins also became chairman of the Union Planters' board in 1989, he asked Moore to join Union Planters Corporation as its president.
For the next 11 years, Moore recalls, he and Rawlins "literally lived together." The CEO who preceded Rawlins had been fired, and Moore worked closely with Rawlins first to rebuild Union Planters and then to expand it from a local bank with $2 billion in assets into a regional powerhouse with operations in 12 states and $33 billion in assets. Moore added the title of chief operating officer in 1994, and Rawlins, who was 10 years Moore's senior, had made his succession plan clear; Moore would become the bank's chairman and CEO when he retired.
However, when Rawlins died suddenly and unexpectedly at age 61 of a heart attack on September 13, 2000, Moore felt the loss keenly even as he stepped into the role of chairman and CEO. "I was well prepared for the challenges of the job, but I was not prepared for the loss of Ben," he said. "Ben was one of my best friends, and we approached our work as a partnership. We had talked a good bit about when he planned to retire, but of all the things we talked about during the 11 years when we traveled together two or three days a week, of all the time we spent together and dinners we had together, we had never discussed the possibility of his early demise."
Moore set about resolving issues created by Union Planters' rapid growth during the 1990s, closing underperforming branches and streamlining operations. "We had a very good team, and everybody rose to the occasion," he said. "We just put our shoulders to the grindstone and kept doing the same things we had been doing. We did it without Ben, but we did it knowing that Ben would approve."
In 2004, Moore guided Union Planters through a merger with Birmingham, Alabama-based Regions Financial Corporation, a $5.9 billion transaction. Moore served as Regions' president during 2004-05, the first year after the merger, as its chairman and CEO from 2005-06, and helped shepherd the bank through its merger with AmSouth, which created one of the 10 largest bank holding companies in the U.S. He then served as executive chairman from 2006-07. He retired in 2007, but remains on the board of the family-owned bank in Clanton, Alabama, where he visits his 95-year-old father and "sleeps in the same bed I slept in through high school" when he attends board meetings.
Moore, who served on the staff of the Law Review and graduated Order of the Coif, has been an active supporter of Vanderbilt Law School since graduation. He joined the Dean's Council in 1988 and chaired the National Council (renamed the Board of Advisors in 2010) from 1993-97 before chairing the law school's major building campaign. "I loved Vanderbilt Law School," Moore said. "It was a great experience, I met some of my lifelong best friends here, and my law school education enabled me to have the career I had. So I stayed close to the law school, active on the alumni board, and chaired the building committee."
In 2002, Moore joined Vanderbilt's Board of Trust, and he became its vice chairman in 2011. Serving Vanderbilt University in this role was a natural evolution for Moore. His daughter, Shellye Moore Geshke, earned her B.S. at Vanderbilt in 2002, and his eldest son, Jackson W. Moore Jr., earned his M.B.A. at Vanderbilt's Owen Graduate School of Management in 2003. Moore's sister-in-law, Rebecca Webb Wilson (BA'65), has served on the Board of Trust since 1989; she and her husband, Spence Wilson (BA'64), met as Vanderbilt undergraduates, and two of their children, daughters, Rebecca Wilson Moskovitz (MBA'02) and Lauren Wilson Young (M.Ed.'99, BS'97), earned Vanderbilt degrees. In addition to his support for the law school, Moore endowed the Moore Family Scholarship to provide need-based assistance to students enrolled in Peabody College, where Shellye earned her degree in special education, or the College of Arts and Sciences.
Moore developed a close relationship with Vanderbilt Chancellor Nick Zeppos while serving on the Dean's search committee in the mid-1990s that recruited Kent Syverud, who served as the law school's dean from 1997 to 2005. "Kent turned out to be a real winner, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to get to know Nick and Professor Nancy King, who was also on the committee," Moore said. "I've been privileged to talk to a lot of professors we've recruited over the last 20 years, and they all mention Vanderbilt's congenial environment. I feel pretty confident that no other world-class research university offers an atmosphere quite like Vanderbilt's, and I'm really proud of my service at the law school and my Board of Trust service. Vanderbilt has experienced a meteoric rise in the last half-dozen years, and one factor is the relationship students have with the faculty there."
According to Vice Chancellor Emeritus John Beasley, both the law school and the university have benefited enormously from Moore's practical guidance. "It's been a true pleasure to work with Jack over the years," Beasley said. "You can always count on him to do the thoughtful, balanced, mature, broadminded and right thing, and he has been extremely generous with his time and resources." Robert Early, executive associate vice chancellor for development, concurs. "We desperately needed a new law school building in the 1990s, and Jack's leadership really made a critical difference in that campaign," Early said. Construction started in 1999 and was completed in 2002. Although portions of the original building remain, the renovation was so comprehensive that it altered the law school's external and internal appearance, which—for the first time—featured natural light from windows and atriums throughout the building. "Vanderbilt boasts one of the best-designed law school buildings in the country, and the entire project was paid for almost as soon as construction was completed," said Dean Chris Guthrie. "Jack's leadership was a key element of that impressive accomplishment."
In retirement, Moore stepped down from corporate boards with the exception of those of companies in which he owned an interest, but continues to serve on the boards of several non-profits, including the Methodist LaBonheur Healthcare network in Memphis and the RISE Foundation as well as on the President's Cabinet at the University of Alabama, which he has chaired since 2009. His lifelong enjoyment of golf—his former classmate Sam Bartholomew has fond memories of competing in tournaments with Moore—is reflected in the fact that he also sits on the board of Youth Programs Inc., which owns and produces Memphis' PGA tournament.
However, after a career spent juggling a demanding schedule, Moore has worked out a more laid-back routine in retirement. "Somebody asked me, after I retired, what I did, and I really had to stop and think about it," Moore said. "If you draw a square and divide it into fourths, I devote a fourth of my time to charitable, philanthropic and religious organizations that I have a passion or and a history with—organizations I think do great thinks for mankind, like Vanderbilt. I spend another 25 percent of my time enjoying my family; I have nine grandchildren, the oldest is six, and eight of the nine are boys! I spend a fourth of my time on personal business affairs. And I spend the other fourth of my time doing whatever the hell I want!"Top of page