Living

Brothers to be presidents of Columbus Bar Association, Columbus Board of Realtors at same time

Morris wears a suit and tie. Shep wears a sport coat and open collar.

Morris plays golf. Shep plays tennis.

Morris is married with children. Shep is a bachelor.

But besides ganging up on their younger brother, Bert, while growing up in the St. Elmo section of Columbus, they are about to have something else in common: president of their local professional organization.

Since July 1, Morris Mullin, 48, has been president of the Columbus Bar Association, leading nearly 400 local lawyers. For six months, his one-year term will overlap with his older brother, Shep Mullin, 49, who will become president of the 600-member Columbus Board of Realtors on Jan. 1.

And here is another trait they share: respecting all sorts of folks, which their parents, Andrew and Anna, taught them. Shep and Morris say that perspective helped them advance to their prominent positions. As a result, they have vowed to make their associations more inclusive and unified.

Competition

Andrew, 78, was a golf pro at the former Four Lakes Golf Club, now the Midland Trace subdivision off Blackmon Road. Anna was a teacher's aide at Brookstone School. She died in June at 77.

During their childhood, the Mullin brothers spent their summers at the Country Club of Columbus. They walked from their 18th Avenue home. Morris and Bert lugged golf clubs; Shep carried a tennis racket.

"We did that from the day we got out of school in May until the day we went back to school," Morris said. "It was straight to the country club."

"It was 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.," Shep added.

The Mullin brothers were honored athletes at Brookstone. Morris was the Ledger-Enquirer All-Bi-City Golf Player of the Year in 1984 and 1985. Bert also was an All-Bi-City golfer. Shep was All-Bi-City in tennis.

"I didn't have the patience for golf," Shep said.

Beyond the club and school, the Mullin brothers competed at the YMCA and Peach Little League -- even in their back yard. They got along well until Bert would tell on Shep or Morris for sins such as breaking a window with an errant ball.

"Once Mom was gone, they'd pound on me," Bert said. "I could do no wrong in Mom's eyes. So even if I broke the window, somehow they would get in trouble."

"We beat him up pretty good," Shep said.

"But when he went screaming," Morris added, "we were done for."

The brothers, however, long ago got over those injustices.

"I'm awfully proud of those guys," said Bert, 45, senior vice president and relationship manager for Synovus Family Asset Management. "They're setting a pretty high bar for me." Then he added with a laugh, "But in the field that I've chosen, there isn't a trade group to be president of."

Divergence

Asked to describe Shep and Morris, their father said, "Shep made new friends every day. He just has that way about him. Morris, he was the smart one. He got A's in every subject."

Despite different personalities, they roomed together at Auburn University for two years.

"Dad was trying to save money," Shep said with a laugh. "We were consolidating costs."

But they barely saw each other. Morris was in the Sigma Nu fraternity while Shep focused on his tennis as a walk-on then played No. 1 singles at Columbus College in 1990.

"Shep was always going to do his own thing," Morris said. "He wasn't going to let the influences of what was expected of somebody in the normal course affect what he was going to do.

"That's pretty true," Shep said.

"A lot of times social pressures push people in a certain direction," Morris said. "That's probably more true of me than Shep. That's not something he paid any attention to."

"I was never in that corporate mold," Shep said. "I was going to do my own thing. I was never going to be the Monday-through-Friday, 9-to-5 guy."

Shep was assistant director of the Cooper Creek Tennis Center for six years, then obtained his real estate license in 1997. He became co-owner/broker of Solid Source Premier Realty in 2003 with Alex Rozwadowski. Rick Gordon now is the third partner.

Morris earned his law degree from the University of Georgia in 1992. After eight years at the prestigious Columbus firm Hatcher Stubbs Land Hollis & Rothschild LLP, Mullin practiced with Ted Morgan and by himself before joining two other former Hatcher Stubbs partners, Joe Waldrep and Neal Callahan, in 2006 to form Waldrep Mullin & Callahan LLC.

"Morris was always very good at whatever he did, especially school," Shep said. "I think school came easily to him."

"I don't know that it came easy," Morris said. "I just had something telling me that I needed to work harder than somebody else. I still can't believe that all three of us work so hard. The odds were that one of us had to be a bum. I mean, come on. But we're just getting after it and working as hard as we can."

Connections

Most of their childhood friends have moved out of town to pursue their careers. The Mullin brothers achieved success in their hometowns.

"It's unusual for us to still be in Columbus," Shep said. "I've often thought, somehow, Columbus is in our DNA. Our family probably goes back three or four generations. I never really looked into moving away."

"I got a dose of Atlanta when I was in law school, working summers for law firms there," Morris said, "and I just didn't have a good feel about it. Being here for generations, it just seems like we have an instant knowledge of a lot of the fine families in town. It's just an easy place to come back to."

Their parents taught them how to be social.

"They were pretty outgoing," Morris said. "Our mother was a member of every garden club and bridge club in town. Any lawyer who played golf, as most of them did, knew who my dad was."

"We were pretty well connected in Columbus," Shep added.

Now, as presidents of their local professional organizations, they want to connect more people.

"I think Columbus is more open, more inviting than it used to be and more of an attraction to people that aren't originally from Columbus," Morris said. "Maybe 30 years ago, as I was coming along, I think there was a little bit of a notion that it's hard to get into Columbus if you're from the outside, but I think that's changed."

"We in the Realtor community have an interest in Columbus growing," Shep said. "It's what we need in housing. We need more big companies here. We need more small businesses. We need more jobs. If we get more jobs, it helps us in real estate. So we're very pro-growth and try to be very welcoming to accommodate that."

Both are hearing more optimistic outlooks from their peers as they recover from the Great Recession.

"I think all lawyers are trying to fill some gaps that might be left from 2008 and 2009," Morris said. "Businesses are a little less willing to sue each other when they don't have as much money. Certainly, the real estate lawyers have had a tough go of it in the last five years. All lawyers are looking to make sure they don't get left behind and make their practices malleable to the current environment."

"From a real estate standpoint, the market has been better over the past two years," said Shep, who noted the number of Realtors in Columbus has decreased since 2008 from about 1,000 to 600. "The low interest rates that we're seeing have really helped, so we're seeing a little bit better environment for housing sales."

Goals

Morris and Shep listed their goals for their presidential terms. Morris wants the Columbus Bar Association to be more inclusive, start a website and support the state bar's effort to get more lawyers in rural counties and promote civics education:

Inclusive -- "I want to try to reach out to lawyers and groups of lawyers and make our association more of an open and inviting type of an organization than maybe it has been before," Morris said. "I think we're missing some cultural diversity. Potentially, we're also missing lawyers that work for corporations that don't feel like the Columbus Bar Association is really for corporate lawyers, thinking it's more for private practitioners."

Website -- "People wind up calling the state bar instead of us," Morris said, "so we're trying to give the local citizens an outlet to get in touch with us."

Rural counties -- "There are several counties in the state that don't have any lawyers," Morris said. "And one of them is Chattahoochee County."

Similar to incentives given to doctors, the idea is to help lawyers pay off some of their student loans if they set up a practice in rural counties.

Another state initiative is promoting civics education with a program called iCivics, bringing lawyers into the classroom.

"If the curriculum isn't supporting teaching civics, then the bar association is trying to get it done," Morris said. "If it takes private lawyers donating their time, we feel like it's worth it, because there are kids coming out of high school not realizing that there's a state government and a federal government."

Shep's goals for the Columbus Board of Realtors are unity, education and outreach:

Unity -- "It's about working together on a deal," Shep said. "It's about participating and getting to know each other."

Education -- "We're moving so much into technology with real estate now," Shep said. "Realtors need to be educated on technology and how that applies to the real estate field."

Outreach -- "We raise money to give to organizations that have to do with housing," Shep said.

Support

Andrew insisted that driving his sons to and from school, playing sports and doing other activities with them wasn't enough.

"I told them they needed to be close to each other," he said. "They needed to build a relationship. You can try to push them, but they needed to decide on their own."

Their bond remained strong as they grew up. But now that Morris and Bert have families of their own, the Mullin brothers' relationship has shifted.

"That's been the single biggest dynamic that has changed," Morris said.

"Different directions," Shep said with a smile. "I don't know how that worked out."

"Well," Morris surmised, "maybe when we went to the golf course and he went to the tennis court, that set a pattern that has played out for the rest of our lives."

"Yeah," Shep said with a laugh, "I've been a singles player."

But the Mullin brothers always have supported each other, they say.

"There's never been any friction," Morris said. "There's never been anything to overcome. There's just been times when we've gone months without seeing each other because of our lifestyles. It's amazing what the three of us have been able to forge. You have to recognize that all of you are different, even though you are related, and all of you have your life and leading it as best you can, and I think we all have a mutual respect for our independent lives."

"It is about respect," Shep said.

They have sent each other clients and sought each other's professional advice.

"There's almost no question we can't get answered amongst the three of us," Morris said.

Respect

When adult siblings must decide how to care for elderly parents, the discussions often result in rifts. But the Mullin brothers say they smoothly handled their mother's decline.

"We all contributed," Morris said, "but when our mother was ill for two years, Shep, he absolutely took over the lion's share of the responsibility for her. I think he respected the fact that Bert and I had small kids. We didn't have the time that he did. But he never complained about it. I felt like he was respecting my life, which is different than his. To look into yourself and not be selfish and say, 'Well, I don't care. Those are choices they made. They need to contribute.' He didn't say that. He said, 'Look, I've got more time.'"

"I understood that," Shep said. "I'm single. I don't have any kids. I'm the one that needs to come see Mom more often. I felt that was the way it should be."

They credit their parents for laying such a solid foundation in their lives.

"They did everything they could for us," Shep said. "They sent us to school. They provided opportunities for us. They made a lot of sacrifices for us."

"They taught us to be kind and respectful to everybody," Morris said. "Whatever socioeconomic level somebody was, you didn't treat them any differently. Each single person was due the same level of respect, no matter what their circumstances were."

Bert is impressed with how comfortable his brothers are in any social situation.

"They can talk to the CEO of a publicly traded company as easily as the guy working in the mailroom," Bert said.

Such a viewpoint has helped them succeed in their fields, they said.

"Our dad really enjoyed hanging out with people from different backgrounds," Morris said. "He would gravitate toward someone who was completely different than he was."

"Dad had friends who were lower class, middle class, upper class," Shep said. "We had connections from all spectrums of society."

Their father was in the people business as a golf pro. He taught them to see the commonality of humanity where others saw the differences of class. Their mother taught them the social graces to seal those relationships.

"We learned to interact with people," Shep said.

"That's a skill we all have," Morris said.

So what would have their mother said about them becoming president of their local professional organization?

"She would have been the first one at the garden club luncheon to make sure they all knew," Morris said with a smile. "In her circle, that would have been big stuff."

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.

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