Richard Greene

Arlington has lost a key player; others have lost a friend, mentor and confidant

Not all city leaders toil at city hall. Arlington’s James Cribbs made a difference from one of Tarrant County’s most respected law firms.
Not all city leaders toil at city hall. Arlington’s James Cribbs made a difference from one of Tarrant County’s most respected law firms. Star-Telegram file photo

The lifetime of Arlington attorney James Cribbs, 1932-2019, spanned the city’s modern history, and he will always be remembered as a key player.

As the son of Ott Cribbs, the city’s longest serving police chief of 37 years, James had a role model who shaped his life and instilled a work ethic based on fundamental values of serving his community.

His father began his law enforcement career in 1925 as a combination police officer, fireman and ditch digger earning $85 a month and often sleeping overnight in the police station.

At the time, Arlington covered just two square miles, and it would have been unimaginable to its residents that it would become one of the country’s largest cities and that his son known as ‘Ottie’ would be among those who helped to make it so.

James earned his law degree from SMU in 1955, received his license to practice that same year and went to work building a career that covered more than five decades.

Success in developing strong relationships with his clients led to establishing his own law firm along with Bob McFarland in 1971. Later, Dixon Holman joined the practice and the partnership became one of the most respected in Tarrant County.

McFarland would be recognized as one of the most effective members of the Texas Legislature — serving in both the House and Senate — and Holman, a city council member and later a distinguished jurist.

To conclude James and his partners were in a position to support the growth and development of Arlington as few others did would be entirely accurate.

His big conference room, with a giant table accommodating many who shared his passion for moving the city in a positive direction, would often be the place where things got worked out.

His emergence as a community leader can be traced to his passion for political conservatism as he rose to leadership in the fledgling Republican Party in a state that was, through the decades of the 1960s and ’70s, a Democratic stronghold. The joke around town during those days was that James could convene a meeting of the party on the right in a phone booth.

Aside from his political activism he was profoundly devoted to his clients.

James somehow reached beyond the standard of doing his best, and moved into the zone of doing what was required to achieve the outcomes they desired.

Among his signature assurances to them was to say that everything would work out and they would be OK. He may not have known for sure how he would help to produce that result, but he would leave no stone unturned, nor any case lacking the research needed to prevail.

If you are wondering how I know these things about him, it’s because he was my personal lawyer, my business partner/attorney, and confidant.

Whenever facing a challenge or seizing an opportunity in any realm, he was always as close as the phone and ready to see me even when I showed up at his office without an appointment.

Those occasions also illustrated his mastery of multitasking. He didn’t like to tell any client that he was not available at a time they needed to see him. So, in addition to that big conference room, there also was a smaller meeting room and his law library, where he could accommodate multiple demands on his time simultaneously.

Moving among those locations, he addressed each client’s needs, hopes, dreams, and fears so they could leave feeling a sense of relief that the result they wanted would somehow be achieved.

But none of the above is superior to the most important thing to me. He was my friend. My close friend. He was generous with me and my family in countless ways. I’m a better person because of our long relationship.

Few others will miss him more.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor, served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency and lectures at UT Arlington.