There isn’t a spare square inch of space on his massive desk. He knows where everything is but lives in fear of a sudden windstorm shuffling the stacks like playing cards.
Handly is thin as a proverbial rail, the product of a passion for fencing when he was younger—he’ll be 73 in August—and possibly because he has never married. “Let’s just say I’m still interviewing,” he quips.
Sitting at his desk, with a Texas Hill Country landscape behind him, he faced a portrait of Winston Churchill with clear, blue eyes that contrast with his white beard.
He resembles someone Faulkner might have described occupying a similar office on the Yoknapatawpha county square.
Handly might give pause at such a literary reference, considering his preference for other writers. “Kipling and Twain know all there is to know,” he asserts. “Everyone else knows all the rest.”
He was born in Beeville, graduated from George West High School in 1959, then graduated from the University of Texas Law School in 1967 — the same year he was licensed to practice law.
His legal status was a strong attribute when he joined the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War.
“I tried to join the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s corps, and the Air Force’s JAG group,” he says. But, at the last moment, his recruiter asked him if he would like a posting where he would wear civilian clothes, drive an unmarked car and carry a gun.
He jumped at the chance.
“I was lucky,” he admits, using a reference not just a few veterans have uttered: “I was in the right place at the right time.”
He spent most of his military time near Langly, Virginia, as an Office of Special Investigations officer with a high security classification working in counterintelligence.
“I had a telephone and a mailbox to watch and that’s about all I’m allowed to tell,” he says.
“But, thank goodness, I didn’t make it into JAG. What I did in OSI was a lot more interesting than writing divorce decrees or powers of attorney.”
After his required seven years, Handly could have chosen to practice in a larger city, enjoying the professional benefits of a substantial law firm.
Instead, he returned to Beeville.
Does he consider himself, then, a country lawyer?
“I once told an Arab client that I was just a country lawyer,” Handly remembers. “He told me, ‘Get off that (BS).’
“I wanted to be near a large city for the amenities it offers,” Handly says.
He returned to Beeville “ready to take anything that walked into the office.”
Through the ensuing years, he gradually began to specialize in oil and gas law.
“Law has changed,” he says. “Today, you practically have to specialize.”
Another example he cites, “when I started, you could handle a divorce decree on a single page. Today, it takes about 60 pages. That’s both good and bad.”
Concurrently, computers help to alleviate paperwork.
“I used to type 100 words per minute when I was younger, using a Remington my parents gave me.”
While his office looks as if it should be decorated with a manual typewriter, the Remington is stored in his garage, broken long ago.
Texas has changed too, he notes. “When I started, Texas was a rural state. Now, it’s a urban state. But, we still have a lot of open space. Loving County has a population of 71; King County’s population is 276. McMullen County’s population is 726.”
Then, utilizing that keen sense of timing that most attorneys learn early in their courtroom experience, Handly pauses just long enough.
“I have an almanac.”
He was the city’s municipal judge during the 1974 Iranian crisis. While American embassy personnel were held hostage, some Iranian students at the college held a protest in the gym.
A friend advised Handly, “You know what we ought to do with them uraniums? We ought to export them!”
He also served as county judge in the mid-1980s.
He got involved with St. Philip’s Episcopal Church when a lady asked him to be a godfather. “My parents only went to church for weddings and funerals. But I was involved in a high-church place, just where I wanted to be.”
He has served on the vestry and teaches an adult Sunday school class.
“A Sunday school teacher?” exclaims former district attorney Martha Warner incredulously. “He’s a profound biblical scholar.”
And what are the plans for this biblical scholar?
“To put one foot in front of the other,” he says, “living one day at a time.”
Maybe, write a book?
“My grammar’s too bad.”
Advice to youngsters who want to become lawyers?
“Pace yourself. Have some fun while you’re in law school.
And afterward, “One time some advertising agency asked if I would be willing to answer a few questions,” he recalls.
Surveyor: What kind of cigarette do you think of for men?
Handly: Virginia Slims.
Surveyor: And what brand for women?
Surveyor: What brand do you smoke?
Handly: Old Gold.
Surveyor: To make sure we have a good sample, are you white, black, Indian, Asian or Hispanic?
Handly: You know what, I’ve never given it much thought, one way or the other.
Another anecdote that he still chuckles at: When he was a municipal judge, he dialed up the clerk.
“I’d like to obtain a copy of my death certificate.”
Long, long pause.
“Is this Kinkler Handly?”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.