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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Chris Townley, the former solicitor general for Walker County State Court, talks about his career Wednesday, January 8, 2020 at his home in Chickamauga, Georgia. Townley was selected to receive the 18th Annual Thomas O. Marshall Professionalism Award from the Georgia State Bar Association.

Chris Townley has never been known as a loud man.

As a longtime attorney, the 67-year-old Townley let his actions speak for him. Friends, colleagues and family members say he led by example, was a professional inside and outside of the courtroom and went about his business the right way.

Early in his career, Townley practiced law in South Georgia. There was a stretch where the district attorney he was working under couldn't try cases, so in a seven-county area he tried them all when he was fresh out of law school.

One of the lawyers at the time told the soft-spoken Townley that he needed to speak up more.

"So I did what he said, and then they started saying how I sounded like a Baptist preacher," Townley said. "The next floor up they could hear me talking."

Townley has modified his courtroom voice since his early days. His demeanor in the courtroom, the way he treats the profession and the people he worked with are among the many reasons he was honored this week by the Georgia State Bar.

For his work as an attorney, and most recently as the Walker County solicitor, Townley was presented with the Thomas O. Marshall Professionalism Award by the Georgia State Bar, one of the state's most prestigious awards.

The annual award is given to one of the more than 50,000 lawyers in the state.

Georgia State Bar President Darrell Sutton said Townley was honored, in part, for conducting himself with dignity, kindness, preparation and skill.

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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Larry Stagg sits down to speak with Chris Townley after Townley was presented with the 18th Annual Thomas O. Marshall Professionalism Award from the Georgia State Bar Association Wednesday, January 8, 2020 in Chickamauga, Georgia. Townley is the former solicitor general for Walker County State Court. Stagg commended Townley for his professionalism as a fellow lawyer.

Sutton and Jeff Davis, executive director of the State Bar, traveled to Townley's home in Chickamauga on Wednesday to present Townley with the award.

In February 2019, Townley collapsed from a seizure at home and was rushed to the hospital. He was soon after diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma, a rare form of brain cancer.

It was completely unexpected and devastating for the family, his son Shaun said.

Townley was elected as Walker County's solicitor general in 2018 but decided to step down in October due to his medical condition.

Sutton and Davis made the special trip up from Atlanta to Townley's home, where more than 30 people crammed into the living room to honor their friend.

In his decorated 40-year career, Townley won several landmark cases, including a unanimous decision in the 2017 Honeycutt v. U.S. case before the U.S. Supreme Court that involved civil forfeiture in certain drug crimes. For the State Bar, Townley has served on the Board of Governors, Investigative Panel and the Disciplinary Rules and Procedures Committee.

Townley said one of the most important things he learned in his career was to treat everyone in the courtroom with respect and to make sure never to treat anyone as if they were more or less important than anyone else.

Those lessons went beyond the courtroom, as well, he said.

"We need a lot more Chris Townleys in this profession, that's for sure," Davis said.

Shaun said it meant a lot to his dad and the family to have so many people over on Wednesday.

"As he's been sick, he's been talking to us about how much he misses doing this work and how much he felt honored to be a part of this profession," he said.

Chris' wife Sandi said that, while people reflected on her husband's long career, it made her think of when they were first married at the ages of 19 and 20.

"I've seen his career all the way through," Sandi Townley said. "It's a wonderful thing when someone does what they're supposed to do. He's always seen it as a way to help people."

Even with a subtle voice, Townley has left a legacy that is unmistakably loud.

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.

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