In 2006, Mike Rainwater, Stephen Holt, and Bob Sexton founded what is now the largest personal injury law firm in Arkansas. Seven years later, Stephen discovered he had ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and passed away in January 2014. We recently spoke with Mike and Bob about the life and legacy of their partner and friend.
How did you each meet Stephen?
Bob: His wife was from my hometown, so we met the first week of law school. We ended up in a study group all the way through school. Stephen was a smart guy who was simply willing to work harder than anyone else. We’ve lived life together. We were there when our children were born and have watched them grow up. He was a happy-go-lucky guy but was serious about things that matter.
Mike: In 1993, before the Internet when you needed a lot of law clerks for research, Stephen came to work for Phillip Duncan and me. Our office became a place where the study group Bob mentioned could meet. Stephen’s always been a guy who surrounded himself with quality people. We trusted Stephen from the beginning.
What characteristics did Stephen bring to work every day?
Mike: Stephen was a strong-willed person. When he gets his mind on something, he would jump on it and figure out all the details. With his banking background, he became determined to learn the business side of law practice.
Bob: He was the most detail-oriented person I ever met, and he was willing to out-work everyone else every time.
Obviously Stephen’s illness took him and everyone else by surprise. How had your succession planning prepared for this?
Mike: You don’t ever plan to lose a partner at 46 years old.
Bob: When someone has a terminal illness, you have time to sit down with that person and talk to them about how they want things to happen. We sat around the kitchen table and eventually his bedside at his house and talked it out.
Some members of the cj family may be unaware of Stephen’s missionary work. How did he become interested in Paraguay?
Mike: In the last several years, he told me he wanted to work on something in his life that had lasting value. Christian service was that thing for him. He had long ago said, “I don’t want to spend my retirement playing golf and picking up seashells.” What I didn’t realize is that he and his wife Patience were planning to be full-time missionaries in
their retirement years.
Bob: He went with his daughter on a youth mission trip to Paraguay and caught that initial fire. He brought all of his best traits–all of the detailed planning and willingness
to work hard—to that effort. He led and participated in several trips over the last few years.
How does the firm plan to carry on Stephen’s legacy?
Mike: We made the decision with Stephen that we are going to keep the same name. Legally, we are not allowed to use his image, because it’s not a truthful representation to act as if he still works here.
Bob: We’ll continue to try to make decisions, even in our community efforts, that Stephen would have approved.
Mike: In honor of his missionary work, we brought Pastor Augusto Vega up from Paraguay before Stephen died. We could really see through that visit how passionate Stephen was about his work in Paraguay. When we presented the idea to Stephen about a fund to help there, he said, “That would be a desire of my heart.” The cj family has been so supportive of this effort. We’ll certainly keep all of the donors informed as that progresses over the years.
Bob: Even as his body went, Stephen’s mind was still intact until the end. He made detailed lists until he passed and would call Mike or me to the house to run through them. He made lists on everything from where the key to his boat was to teaching his son Will how to tie a tie. Stephen was very intentional about the legacy he would be leaving.
Donations may still be made to the Stephen Holt Paraguayan Church Building Memorial Fund at the Arkansas Baptist Foundation, 10117 Kanis Road, Little Rock, AR 72205.