Many years ago, a song called “Short People” came out. A lot of people thought it was hilarious.
I wasn’t a fan.
I get asked how tall I am a lot. Barely five feet tall. When I was younger, I got a lot of “Wow, you’re really short!”. Wow, thanks for letting me know! I had no idea.
While being short can be a pain for a woman, it’s much harder for a guy. My father was probably no taller than five feet five, if that. I know when he was growing up, he hated it. But when he joined the Air Force, he gained confidence and didn’t let his height bother him. If he came up to you to shake your hand, you forgot he was a short man.
If I’d been able to meet Harvey Henry Tisinger, I know I would have thought the same thing.
I “found” Harvey this week at East View Cemetery in Atlanta. It’s one of my favorite places to visit because the cemetery is well maintained by a group of volunteers. The place is quite peaceful despite the fact it’s located in East Atlanta. Someone raises chickens nearby because nearly every time I visit, I hear one making a fuss.
I snapped a photo of Harvey’s grave as an afterthought before I left. His marker lists a Lucy Tisinger as well but there’s no death date for her. So as is my habit, I started digging. Oddly enough, there was nothing on Lucy on Ancestry.com. Nothing. But Harvey? Well, that was a different story.
UPDATE: According to Harvey’s obituary, his wife was Lucy Lee Elizabeth Paine. It’s possible she remarried after his death because she doesn’t not appear to be buried next to him.
Harvey Henry Tisinger was born in Carroll County, Ga. in the Bowdon area in 1898. He was the son of George Washington Tisinger and Ida Bibb McDaniel Tisinger. George operated Victory Farm in Bowdon, growing and selling cotton. Harvey was one of nine children. But from the start, Harvey was different.
Due to an unknown illness in infancy, Harvey only grew to be four feet three inches tall.
Even as a child, Harvey did not let his lack of height get in his way. At 12, he sawed the handle off a hoe so he could chop cotton. At 14, some said he could pick 200 pounds of cotton a day.
Harvey went to the University of Georgia to get a degree in commerce, hoping to help out in managing the family farm. He did not sit idle. He was inducted into the Honorary Business Fraternity (later called Gamma Sigma), and was elected president of the Economic Society, secretary/treasurer of the Student Council, and secretary of the Athletic Association. He performed in the Glee and Mandolin Club, was a football and basketball cheerleader, and participated in other campus organizations.
But after graduating, Harvey had to face some harsh realities. Nobody wanted to hire a short man. He tried to find work in Atlanta but failed. He borrowed money from his siblings and went to New York City, where he met similar disappointing results.
In a profile in the Atlanta Journal, Harvey said, “Everywhere I went, the executives and personnel managers turned me down flat, without even giving me a mental examination. That was the first and last time I ever found my size as a real handicap in the business world, but I refused to let that get me down, although I was feeling pretty low when I came dragging home.”
But Harvey didn’t give up. Having been encouraged by a West Georgia Agricultural and Mechanical School professor who saw him win a debate contest, he decided to get his law degree at UGA. In law school, Harvey continued participating in many of the same organizations he was involved in while an undergraduate. The leadership qualities he developed matured and he was selected as a “Counselor,” vice president of the Demosthenian Society, vice president of the senior class, and president of the Athletic Association.
Harvey was ready to go back to Carrollton and get to work. “A lawyer isn’t hired by a personnel manager, and the people around Carrollton where I intended to practice knew the stuff I was made of and what I could do.”
Harvey practiced law in Carrollton from 1922 to 1934. He undertook the general practice of law as a sole practitioner but also served in federal bankruptcy court as a “referee in bankruptcy.” After his brother Bob joined the firm, Harvey left Carrollton for Atlanta. He assumed the position of an assistant U. S. district attorney, serving in that position from 1934 to 1958.
After he retired, it was reported that Harvey served six attorneys general, four district attorneys, and represented six federal wardens at the U. S. Penitentiary in Atlanta. During his tenure, he convicted approximately 2,500 defendants and handled almost 1,800 habeas corpus proceedings. After his retirement from the U. S. District Attorney’s office, Harvey continued to practice law in Atlanta until his death in 1959.
Bob continued at the Carrollton law firm Harvey founded until 1963. It exists today as Tisinger Vance P.C., with 13 attorneys. Three of them are Tisingers and all three attended the University of Georgia Law School. Most of the information about Harvey I got to write this blog post came from the Tisinger Vance web site.
But Harvey’s story stays with me. He made his own way in a world where short men can still be quietly discriminated against, even today. He did not let it hold him back.
His quote in the Pandora, UGA’s yearbook, says it all: “If you’ve managed to keep your own respect, you needn’t worry about that of others; you’ll have it.”
You were right, Harvey.