Alumni and Friends
Profiles in Success
"Finding 'Room at the Top' - To Advance the Public Good"
At 13, she knew it was medicine or law. No doubt, she'd spent much time in quiet thought about her future as she was growing up. Hometown: Uriah, AL, a small little town near the quintessentially southern town of Monroeville - Alabama's literary capital - the fabled home of Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Leura Garrett attended a small public school with 28 students in her first-grade class. These 28 kids all went through high school together in that little town, and Leura was to become one of the school's exemplary students. Perhaps this setting was a reason she knew at 13 it was medicine or law for her. But she was yet to decide which it would be. Dad had been a lawyer, but had come home to run the family farming business years earlier. Leura contemplated her future.
Talking as she often did with her mom about what she wanted to be when she grew up, she wanted to explore those two career choices more intensely. Moms being perceptive and ingenious beings, Leura says her mom took her to see "Miss Alice" Lee, older sister of Harper Lee of To Kill a Mockingbird fame, and a female lawyer who'd been quite successful herself. (In fact, Miss Alice attended Huntingdon in the early 1930's and is still practicing law today!) Captivated by her conversation with Miss Alice, Leura observed that there were not many female lawyers in a profession dominated by males. Putting it all in perspective in her own inimitable way, Miss Alice told Leura, "Honey, there's always room at the top!" Leura left that conversation determined to become a lawyer. In fact, she never again considered medicine - nor any other profession. It was to be law - and there'd be room for her at the top!
Back in the summer of her junior year in high school, Leura attended Girl's State at its annual session on the Huntingdon campus. So taken was she with Huntingdon, that she determined to enroll - that fall! She took her outstanding academic record to the registrar and was granted early admission. There was to be no senior year in high school for Leura. Instead, that year became her freshman year at Huntingdon. The Garrett family had sent several of its girls to Huntingdon over the years. In fact, Leura's older sister, Ardis, had received a scholarship and was already a Huntingdon student that summer. Huntingdon was an excellent choice for college - no doubt. Leura says that having her sister on campus at the same time was a big help to her when she arrived on campus. Ardis was involved in everything; Leura was rather shy. Looking back on the events leading her to attend Huntingdon and enroll when she did, Leura says it was the best decision she'd ever made.
Having breezed through school back in Uriah, Leura says Huntingdon was the first time in her academic career she'd been challenged. This only increased her natural determination to excel - and excel she did. In fact, Leura graduated in three years. With two majors: business and history. She gained acceptance to the law school at the University of Alabama. On early admission. At 19 - in October of her senior year at Huntingdon. Clearly, her ambition and her academic excellence were noted by the law school, even as they were three years earlier by Huntingdon. She was on her way to becoming a lawyer. Three years later, she would graduate from law school and distinguish herself among her peers early on as a model of excellence in public service.
And distinguish herself, she's done! After 24 years in public service, Leura currently holds the position of United States Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, numbering among her constituents over a million residents of central and south-southeast Alabama, serving as one of three U.S. Attorneys for Alabama - and one of just over 90 U.S. Attorneys in the United States. Leura had been a career litigator, beginning as a civil litigator in the office of the attorney general for the State of Alabama. In that role, Leura defended state employees who had been sued, she says, "for doing their job." She'd found an area of the law into which she could both immerse herself and derive much satisfaction from helping others.
Back in 1989, she found herself among a group doing an exchange study in Russia. Leura had always loved to read, and had found the classics especially compelling. She notes that Dr. Emory Head, who'd been her professor at Huntingdon and had introduced her to a deeper love for classic literature, had also awakened in her a love for the Russian classics. It was this connection that had spurred a discussion with a colleague with similar interests, leading to the exchange trip opportunity with the American Council of Young Political Leaders. As fate would have it, Leura was to meet her future husband, William Canary, on this same trip. It was then on to the Department of Justice (DOJ) as a civil litigator - one week before her wedding. She and William were married at First United Methodist Church in Montgomery, then off to Washington, D.C., to pursue her career with the DOJ. As a civil litigator, Leura again had the opportunity to do the legal work she'd found so rewarding in the state attorney general's office - but this time, it would be constitution-based litigation defending federal law enforcement officers: FBI, ATF, DEA, and others sued for doing their job.
After the arrival of her first child, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama offered her a job as a career lawyer in his Montgomery office. Leura found this wonderful opportunity to be a pivotal one in her career. She'd be moving back home to Alabama to raise her family, continue her career with the DOJ, and continue to do the litigation work she found so rewarding. She says she could imagine nothing more ideal for her than what had become her career serving the public in this capacity. For seven fascinating years, she pursued her career, relishing both the unique opportunity for service and the feeling of satisfaction it brought her. When she thought it could be no better, along came the chance for her to open another opportunity for herself: she would seek appointment by the President to the position of U.S. Attorney upon the departure of the man who had invited her into his office as a litigator just a few years earlier.
This was no easy decision. You see, the appointment would sever her career position with the DOJ - meaning she could never return to her career as a litigator at the end of her appointment, which typically coincides with the change of presidential administrations. But for Leura, this meant an even more robust opportunity to serve the public and make a difference in areas she burned with a passion to advance. It was no risk for her. It was a direction she knew she must pursue.
With only "a week to serve" before 9/11 changed the entire dynamic of the DOJ, Leura was appointed by President Bush as the new U.S. Attorney for the Middle District on September 4, 2001. The extreme intensity with which the DOJ undertook the war on terrorism placed it at the top of every U.S. Attorney's list of priorities. Leura now spearheads the anti-terror effort in the district she serves. But this is by no means her only priority. She seized upon the broad autonomy incumbent in her position (she reports to the Attorney General of the United States, but has wide latitude in the management of her office and in the determination of what will be its agenda). In her position, Leura can affect the kind of criminal cases her office will prosecute, develop special task forces, and lend support to various law enforcement efforts. But this is not all. Leura is directly involved in a veritable legion of other avenues of service this appointment has opened for her.
Her commitment to law enforcement had become evident through her defense of its officers in court. She understood the strategic importance of networking and engaging the support of these enforcement bodies in the realization of her goals for her office. Now she is able to prosecute the cases brought to her by law enforcement agencies that have done the footwork in preparation. This creates much more time for the pursuit of her objectives. In fact, her office has been recognized nationally for its output, with its performance metrics consistently in the top of all U.S. Attorneys' offices nationally. Under her leadership, the office doubled the number of prosecutions and tripled the number of white collar crimes litigated. Of primary concern to Leura and a matter for which she holds intense passion is the criminal exploitation of children, including child pornography. She chairs a task force dealing specifically with this troubling and all-too-prevalent menace to society and has been able to make significant inroads by prosecuting cases which had long languished due to lack of adequate resources. She beams with pride at having been able to make such a significant impact in this critical area as U.S. Attorney. What motivates her to be so unyieldingly devoted to excellence? "The public good", she says, with a confirming twinkle in her eyes!
Looking back on it all, Leura credits Huntingdon for so much. "It taught me how to make critical decisions", she says, adding "It was pivotal to my development as a person, instrumental in preparing me for my career, and instilled in me a deeper devotion to my values while exciting me about committing my life to public service." Of course, she repeats the often-cited attributes of small campus, small class sizes and devoted faculty. When she decided to do her second major in history "to fill out my last year or so", Leura discovered Mrs. Margaret Bailey, "the best teacher I ever had!" she says. Yes, although often repeated, these are the timeless attributes which combine to make the Huntingdon Experience that incomparable journey remembered so fondly by Huntingdon's thousands of alumni.
"Success" she says, "is about making sacrifices." "You must make sacrifices to properly establish your priorities and to pursue your passion. Then, to achieve that success, you must be committed to living according to those priorities - for life." What else can she say? Adding, with her captivating energy, she says, "I've never been happier!"