The Postmaster’s Daughter

Toto, we’re not in Wright City anymore

Published in 2008 Texas Rising Stars Magazine — April 2008

How Amy Carter got to be a big-city litigator is no simple tale. It’s the story of a wannabe tap dancer, an ambitious English teacher, a baby in a Ford Tempo, and a heritage of union laborers.

Born in Antlers, Okla., Carter, 34, grew up in nearby Wright City, a sawmill town of about 850, tucked in Oklahoma’s southeastern corner. “Wright City is a real company town, with houses in rows, built by Weyerhaeuser Mills, where most of the residents work,” Carter says.

She is the first in her family to graduate from college. Her father Alonzo Morris was a union iron worker and her grandfather was a union painter. Both her mother and her grandmother were postmasters.

“I grew up thinking I would be the next postmaster,” Carter says. “Living in a small town, there is little reason to push outside what you know. But my parents encouraged me to take education seriously and not be constrained by what other people expected.”

In her high school graduating class of 39, she says she was “just about everything,” including class president, valedictorian, vice president of the student council, homecoming queen, basketball team guard and president of the Future Homemakers of America.

“My high school English teacher, Carolyn Grigory, was a major inspiration,” she says. “She was really hard on everyone because she wanted to push her students.” Grigory, 61, still teaches part-time at Wright City High School. “I always tell my students that even though they’re from a small town,” Grigory says, “they’re as good as anybody and better than most. I pushed Amy harder than the others because she ‘had it’ and was very creative in finding new ways to do what had been done before.”

Grigory herself had dreamed of being a lawyer and urged Carter to pursue a law degree. “I’m doing what Mrs. Grigory always wanted to do,” Carter says.

Carter’s first love was tap dancing. As a young girl, she took classes from a traveling dance instructor from Paris, Texas, and during high school took lessons at a studio in nearby Broken Bow. She was good enough to land dance and academic scholarships to Oklahoma City University (OKCU), where she studied modern dance, ballet and the school’s “American Spirit” dance, which included tap.

But, the week of her sophomore final exams, Carter found out she was pregnant. Continuing a dance major was impossible, so she left OKCU for Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant. A smaller campus that cost less to attend, SOSU was closer to Carter’s Wright City family, whose support she needed more than ever when daughter Jasmine was born in December 1993.

After she graduated in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in business management, she headed off to the University of Texas School of Law. She arrived in her 1989 Ford Tempo with baby Jasmine strapped in a car seat in back. For the first time, Carter was alone and scared.

“UT Law was so big,” she says, “you could fit the entire town of Wright City inside the campus. I was surrounded by amazingly smart people and sometimes wondered, ‘What in the heck am I doing here?’ I was such a small-town girl, completely open and trusting.”

But she discovered she was as good as anybody and better than most, just as Grigory had said. She received her J.D. with honors in December 1997. “Having a child motivated me,” she says. “Having a child teaches you time management, so I was more organized than students who didn’t have anyone relying on them.”

Before joining her current firm, Williams Kherkher Hart Boundas, Carter had posts with the Baron & Budd and Silber Pearlman offices in Dallas. “In my interview with Silber Pearlman,” she says, “they asked about unions, and I said that my daddy would kick my butt if I said anything except ‘I love labor unions.’”

Carter has represented plaintiffs nationwide in pharmaceutical litigation. She is licensed to practice in Texas, Pennsylvania and California. Her current focus is on the Paxil birth defect cases. “When you get to trial,” she says, “it becomes very personal because you are representing this family now, in person. When I’m in trial, my dancer/performer side comes out,” Carter says.

Although a big-city gal now, she and her children, Jasmine, now 14, and son, Grayson, 8, regularly return to Wright City to visit family, and for the children to see their father, whom Carter married during her final year of law school. The couple later divorced.

“Wright City doesn’t even have a stoplight,” she says, “but it’s great to go home because everybody knows everybody. It’s like family. The last time I went back, someone asked if I had passed the California Bar. My mother tells everybody everything about me.”

When she returns, she likes to visit Wright City High and talk to students. “I didn’t even know a lawyer growing up,” she says. “But I want to help students understand that what you do for a living can be what you love. It doesn’t have to be just a job. I remember being really scared to leave Wright City, but forcing yourself into the unfamiliar is the only way to find what there is out there.” 

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