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Gurwitz’ contribution has created growth and education and great opportunities for years to come

By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez,

As originally published by Texas Border Business newsprint edition.

Gary R. Gurwitz is the Texas Border Business feature story of the month and the one responsible for the title of this article.

He is a successful attorney at law and the managing partner of Atlas, Hall & Rodriguez, L.L.P., a leading full-service law firm in South Texas. Since its foundation, this law firm has established a sound reputation for professionalism and public service for everyone.

Mr. Gurwitz has over 40 years of litigation law experience representing corporations, banks, insurance companies, medical professionals, and individuals in cases involving a variety of legal issues. He does not litigate anymore. According to him, “Today this is a young lawyer’s game. We’ve got some great young lawyers here, and they do the litigating.”

You do mostly the managing and overseeing of the law firm so that everything runs smoothly, right? “The first part of that statement is correct. As regards, running smoothly, I’m not sure,” Mr. Gurwitz replied.

Despite the success of the law firm and multiple obligations, Mr. Gurwitz keeps himself busy.  For the last eight years, he has been the managing partner of the Atlas & Hall law firm which became Atlas, Hall & Rodriguez, L.L.P. in 2012. As a result, it has grown both in presence and prestige in McAllen, Brownsville, Austin, and Uvalde, Texas

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What exactly do you do as a managing partner for the law firm? Mr. Gurwitz replied, “Well, as you know, there’s a business side to practicing law. The managing partner makes sure the law firm has the right staff, the right lawyers, good secretaries, legal assistants and more funds coming in than going out, just like any other business.”

As regards his upbringing, Mr. Gurwitz was born in San Antonio, Texas to parents named Jack and Sarah Gurwitz. His father, Jack, was originally from Russia and his mother, Sarah, was from St. Louis, Missouri. However, he was raised in San Antonio, Texas.

He told Texas Border Business that his dad came from Russia in 1910 to the United States at the age of ten. By 1918, he enrolled at Texas A&M University graduating in 1922 as an engineer. He also became a U.S. citizen when he joined the U.S. army. “Although I’m a ‘real orange’ University of Texas – Austin fan, I’m still very proud of my dad,” Mr. Gurwitz stated.

Upon his dad’s graduation, his parents moved to Dallas, Texas for a few years only to find out that this was not the place for them. So in 1926, Mr. Gurwitz’ parents had an opportunity to acquire a general store from Sarah’s dad, and they moved to Three Rivers, Texas once they closed the deal on the store. Mr. Gurwitz said, “In the old times, a small town general store sold needles and thread, clothes, shoes and boots, and Levis and more.”

As you travel north on 281, when you get to Three Rivers, there is a building named after Mr. Gurwitz parents. Jack and Sarah Gurwitz also did extensive community work, and now the building that served as the general store is the Gurwitz Community Center.

“I grew up in Three Rivers,” he said, “and I came to McAllen from the University of Texas – Austin, right out of law school.” Mr. Gurwitz graduated in the top 10% of his class and pointed out that most of his classmates were going to Houston, Texas to the big firms. “At that time, the year of 1959, the big firms in Houston did not hire Jews,” He said, “And there were several other companies that I interviewed with that did not employ Jews either.” He said he had an opportunity to go to Beaumont, Texas, which never took.

Mr. Gurwitz also had the chance to brief for Joe R. Greenhill, Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court in 1959. For those not familiar with the term ‘brief’, this is a written legal document presented to a court arguing why one party to a particular case should prevail. The opportunity for Mr. Gurwitz to do briefs for Justice Greenhill, supposedly was going to be for one or two years and from there he would get a job wherever he wanted. However, he said that by doing that he would have had to start anew this type of law practice. Instead he chose to take a job with a law firm in Mission, Texas.  About this law firm, Mr. Gurwitz said, “it was very fine, an old law firm established in the early 1920’s.” He added, “A classmate of mine had already taken a job in Mission with that law firm.”

Since their arrival, Mr. Gurwitz and his wife Bailey felt very comfortable in the Rio Grande Valley. “My wife and I decided to put down roots in McAllen, which at the time had 20 or 25 thousand people.” As of 2015, the Gurwitz’s have resided in the Rio Grande Valley a ‘whopping’ 54 years.

Mr. Gurwitz stayed with the law firm in Mission for about eighteen months until 1961 when he decided to join with the late Morris Atlas, the founder of Atlas & Hall, who was also a prominent and local attorney.

“When I came to the Rio Grande Valley the court system was limited as compared to our court system today,” he said. He remembers that Hidalgo County had a population ranging from around 250,000 to 300,000 and it was a very comfortable and pleasant community to work and live in.

The law firm Atlas, Hall & Rodriguez, L.L.P. has been in existence for several decades and their success obviously has secret ingredients. “First of all, we always had a plan that we would have a law firm that would survive whatever happened,” He said, “We didn’t want a law firm built on a single or a few personalities.”

Their plan has worked well because today they have neither an Atlas nor Hall. The foundation where they created the entity is unique. “We’ve been here since 1953.” He also pointed out that this law firm now has 32 lawyers. “We’ve been together anywhere from 20 to 40 years. We’ve managed to make this law firm what it is today.”

He continues, “I firmly believe that we have outstanding lawyers in every respect. It’s been a real pleasure to be associated with these attorneys all these years. I know there are other good lawyers. But I think we have the best.”

Aside from being a professional, he has found another passion, it is for serving his community.

Why do you dedicate so much of your time to South Texas College? Mr. Gurwitz says, “Because it’s the right thing to do.” He added, “You learn to serve others from your parents. Of course, there were fewer activities like this in Three Rivers.” He also said, “My parents committed their time to community events. My dad was on the school board for years, and so you learn to serve others, first from your parents.”

He said that when he joined Atlas & Hall, the philosophy to serve others was already embedded in the law firm’s practice. He said, “Morris Atlas was the senior partner; he was one of the founders. He always insisted on having the law firm serve as a good community participant, and when it became Atlas, Hall & Rodriguez, L.L.C. in 2012 we continued to preach this same philosophy because, like Morris, we believe in serving the people.” Morris Atlas was my mentor from the beginning; he was very important to me.

Mr. Gurwitz emphasized that all the lawyers in the firm believe and practice this philosophy, not just him. “I just had the good fortune to be involved in some things like South Texas College where I had the opportunity to be involved with people who get things done.”

Being part of a team that works together towards accomplishing goals is something that he enjoys. He said, “I admit that on my own, I accomplished little or nothing much.  But, as part of a winning team; wonderful things happened!”

“I have been part of the team here at this law firm, a part of the team at South Texas College and at The Vannie E. Cook Jr. Cancer Foundation. That’s why I’ve been able to get things done; not on account of myself.”

Mr. Gurwitz is one of the founding board members of South Texas College. He had the honor of being designated by the late Ann Richards, ex-governor of Texas.

What went through your mind when Gov. Richards appointed you? He responded, “what went through my mind is what am I supposed to do? I didn’t know what to do. The college was new. Nobody knew what to do. None of us had any experience for this. So the first thing we set about doing was hiring us a president. As you know, we got Dr. Shirley Reed, and we went from there. It was pretty much learning on the job.”

Aside from getting a president for South Texas College, what other challenges did you face as you continued building what we have today?  Mr. Gurwitz responded, “The first challenge was how to get started. The city of McAllen, which has been very generous and very supportive of us, gave us the original land and buildings on Pecan Street that were a satellite of Texas State Technical College in Harlingen (TSTC).”

Also, he said, “We had a physical place to go. But we had no budget, we had no money, we had no income, and no staff. We had virtually nothing.”

Mr. Gurwitz also said that when they opened the South Texas College doors, there were approximately a thousand students. But there was hardly any library and the newly created college had no financial resources. Since the college was operated by the Harlingen entity, the board had started almost from scratch. “It took us about a year to a year and a half before it became a viable entity,” he said.

From there on they had books, deposits, and were able to pass a referendum that made them a permanent facility and gave the college a taxing body.

Mr. Gurwitz remembers vividly the planning and the work it took the team to get the college to have revenue. “The city of McAllen helped us along until we started to stand on our own and we went from there.”

It is obvious that South Texas College has an interesting story, from beginning to its present time. The founding board, its president, and staff were successful in passing a bond issue that became crucial for the existence of the college.  It was so strategic that once passed many of the goals already on the table dictated the plan, and the plan according to Mr. Gurwitz was to go east and west from Roma, Rio Grande City, La Joya, Mission, and McAllen to Weslaco and Mercedes, Texas; and today it serves students both North and South of the Rio Grande Valley.

Was the referendum for the bond issue harder to get approved? “The referendum was a little scarier because if it didn’t pass we would go out of existence.” Nevertheless, the results were good.

“There was obviously a need for a community college.” He said that the people of Starr County have pulled South Texas College to success every time there is a voting issue. Mr. Gurwitz has been part of the STC board since 1993, now 22 years, and he still feels a passion to do it.

South Texas College has a two-decade history of national recognition and rankings. It is embedded in the institutional culture to exceed all expectations in their commitment to serve the needs of all residents of deep South Texas.

Mr. Gurwitz recognizes Dr. Shirley A. Reed as one of the finest college presidents; she also happens to be the founding president of South Texas College.

Since it first opened its doors in 1993, South Texas College has experienced steady growth in its student enrollment starting with 1,058 students to an impressive 31,232 students during the fall 2013 semester. It is projected that enrollment will reach more than 42,000 by 2020. STC is now nationally ranked as the 4th of the nation’s 1,200 community colleges in awarding associate degrees to Hispanics, 44th in awarding associate degrees to all students and has the highest graduation rate for large community colleges in Texas.

During the time Mr. Gurwitz has been a resident of this community, he has participated with other nonprofit organizations; however, another nonprofit where he pours his heart into is the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Cancer Foundation, Inc.

This entity, without a doubt, is among the finest nonprofit institutions of Texas. It can be said that this institution is a God send to the community of South Texas.

Mr. Gurwitz is also a board member of the cancer foundation, which has the main purpose to help support the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Children’s Cancer and Hematology Clinic and the thousands of children and families it serves each year.

The Vannie Cook Clinic was established in 2001 in response to a critical unmet need for pediatric cancer care and treatment in the Rio Grande Valley and through a strategic collaboration with The Vannie E. Cook Jr. Cancer Foundation, Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Mrs. Kathy C. Collins, Board Chair of the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Cancer Foundation, Inc. told Texas Border Business that Mr. Gurwitz has been a board member for 25 years as of 2015.  “He has been an invaluable and irreplaceable board member,” she said.

Mr. Gurwitz is married to Bailey and they have three children. The oldest is Barbara, and she and her husband live in Denver, Colorado. Barbara works for a non-profit organization that educates people on how to participate and obtain assistance from government programs, particularly, health programs. Her husband is Stuart Raynor, the chief executive of the Jewish Community Center in Denver Colorado.

He said, “My second daughter is Jill, and her husband is Steve Kozberg.  She is one of the executives in the Jewish services program. She and her husband are psychologists. Steve is also a college professor in Minneapolis.”

His youngest is Danny. He is an attorney and also works with the law firm. His wife Stephanie is a speech therapist. Mr. Gurwitz said, “I’m delighted. It’s been awesome. Danny has done many great things. He has accomplished what he has accomplished on his own.”

In your opinion, what has the participation with the nonprofits meant to you? “It’s been a labor of love because you get to see the results of your efforts almost immediately,” he finalized.

Written by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez, the 2009 SBA Journalist of the Year award winner and the 2009 and 2012 Paul Harris Fellow award recipient. TBB

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