Roger “Sonny” Knight , Jr., longtime Madisonville, Texas attorney, passed away this week according to reports from family and friends.
The first time I met Mr. Sonny was right after I moved to Madisonville to begin my short tenure as the managing editor of the Madisonville Meteor. I won’t forget that first day.
As soon as he walked in the door, you could feel there was something different in the air. He was treated with respect by my employer, Dan, and he gave respect.
When we were introduced, his eyes studied me, and I was quiet, not sure if I should curtsy or what. Then he stuck out his hand, and said, “So you are from Georgia, huh?”
And that became a discussion of my native roots – east Texas, growing up in Georgia, which led to football, Auburn University, the Georgia Bulldogs, and what in the world led me to Madison County.
When I told him the story of my Madison grandparents, the names and how my aunt and uncle had the last name of Barrett – there was a building near Madison Street with the name Barrett on it, he laughed. And then he said, “You came because you need a job, didn’t you? And you wanted to get out of Georgia.”
I had to give him that. He winked at me, and said, “The other makes for a good story though… Tell that version.”
It was then that he told my employer and me the story of the Madisonville Sidewalk Cattlemen’s Association. According to him, the organization had been started sort of as a lark – everyone in Madisonville wore ‘cowboy boots,’ he told us, but if we asked, we would find out that a majority of the members had nothing to do with selling cattle or anything to do with the cattle business. Dan wrote about it in an article.
A former newspaper editor, Mr. Sonny said, started writing about ‘sidewalk cattlemen’ in Madisonville – and if you knew Madisonville, you knew there were no sidewalks back then – so most everyone walked around the square. That is when the originators of the MSCA turned that idea into the organization to help get the word out about the community. Mr. Sonny was born the year the MSCA was.
Watching him at MSCA steak dinner that year – he was a past president, and was being honored – I noticed something about Mr. Sonny – and he didn’t like for me to say Mr., but he always understood that is how we were raised in Georgia. He didn’t want me to call him Mr. Knight.
He spoke, people listened and hung on his every word – no matter if he was offering some of his dry wit or a bit of history or discussing politics or law. Most of the time though, he was watching people. He caught me that night, and said, and I won’t forget, ‘The best way to ‘hear’ what people are ‘saying’ is to watch them.’
That was probably the most lengthy conversation that he and I had during my year there. I saw him a few times at different events, and he would, as any gentleman would, along with his gracious wife, Dawn, speak, and sometimes, he would just give me a nod across the room with a smile.
If wisdom, prestige, character and dignity could be extracted into a men’s cologne – they would name it the ‘Essence of Sonny Knight.’
According to a column written by Laura Cannon last year in The Madisonville Meteor, Mr. Sonny had been a lawyer for 55 years – he was certified on May 17, 1965. Three years later, he was elected to serve as the county attorney. (Earlier update, there was a typo, thanks Ms. Laura for pointing it out. No, he wasn’t the country attorney, but he should have bern. Smile.)
Mr. Sonny served two terms, and was honored at least once as the Madison County Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year.
A graduate of Madisonville High School, with degrees from the University of Texas and the University of Houston Law School, he had been active in sports, and the community for as long as many could remember.
His father, Roger Senior, and mother, Louise, were active in the community – Roger Senior was a longtime attorney, and former congressman, and Louise had been a teacher at both Sam Houston State University, and in the Madisonville public schools, Laura wrote that former news veteran, Dan Rather, was one of Mrs. Knight’s most famous students.
A proud father of four children – Kevin and Laurie, both of whom are practicing attorneys, according to Laura’s column, and Sonnye and Griffin, his wife Dawn was the love of his life, and he was always proud to support all of his family in whatever they did.
Because of family traditions and pride in his community, Mr. Sonny was a long-time advocate of history, especially Madison County history, and preserving it. The building that the Madison County Museum calls home was donated by Mr. Sonny.
What history that man has left as a well-known attorney, a community advocate, and a family – Madison County, Texas won’t be the same without him.
It didn’t matter if you were a lifelong friend or a person he was representing or even someone who just passed him for a “brief moment” in life’s everyday journey, Sonny Knight left an impression on you.
When I think of Mr. Sonny, I think of a quote I read by Benjamin Disraeli. “Life is too short to be little … Man is never so manly as when he feels deeply, acts boldly, and expresses himself with frankness and with fervor.”
Sonny Knight surely was a Texas original – the good Lord broke the mold when he made him. Rest in peace, sir.
(c)Articles by Dan Kleiner and Laura Cannon of the Madisonville Meteor contributed to this story. (2013, 2019)