Just a few days into his freshman year at R. L. Paschal High School in the 1970s, 14-year-old John Scott came home and told his father that he “might want to quit football.”
“He said, ‘You’re not doing anything 1 million other boys hadn’t done. You should stick with it,’” Scott, the newly appointed Texas interim attorney general, recalled recently.
Scott followed his father’s advice and remained on the team to play all four years on the Paschal Panthers, finishing his last season in 1979 as a 200-pound defensive tackle before graduating in 1980. His senior yearbook photo shows a smiling 17-year-old blond wearing a spiffy tuxedo jacket and bow-tie.
In a series of text exchanges with Fort Worth Report that constituted the equivalent of a long-distance interview, Scott, who turns 61 on Sunday, looked back across his life in Fort Worth as a loyal Paschal alum, a successful attorney and a proud father and grandfather who has been married to his wife, Tally, for 35 years.
“Born and raised in Fort Worth,” he said. “God willing, I’ll die here.”
The “stick-with-it” advice from his father, he says, became a lasting mantra that helped propel the Panthers’ former No. 76 into a highly public life centered in Austin and the one for which he is far better known outside of Fort Worth.
In the past week, Scott accepted a major role in the historic impeachment drama playing out in the Texas State Capitol. Gov. Greg Abbott appointed him to serve as interim replacement for suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Abbott announced that he was temporarily naming Scott to become the state’s highest law enforcement officer as Paxton faces an impeachment trial in the Senate this summer on 20 articles of alleged wrongdoing and public misconduct.
In his text responses, Scott kept the focus on his personal life and declined to comment on the impeachment. But asked whether he would be an activist or a placeholder in serving as interim attorney general, Scott described his role “purely as a caretaker,” adding: “My plans are to get back to private practice as quickly as I can.”
Paxton was overwhelmingly impeached by the House of Representatives on June 27, after a once-secret investigation by the House General Investigating Committee presented Texas with its first impeachment case in nearly a half-century.
In choosing Scott to run the battered attorney general’s office pending the outcome of Paxton’s impeachment case, the governor cited the Fort Worth lawyer’s years of public service, pointing to his “background and experience” in a variety of roles.
Scott served as Texas Secretary of State, which oversees elections. Earlier public stints included board chairman of the Texas Department of Information Resources, chief operating officer of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and deputy attorney general when Abbott headed the agency before becoming governor in 2015.
During his service at the health and human service commission, Scott was credited with reforming internal ethics and contracting policies following a no-bid scandal that led to the ouster of the agency’s director, according to D Magazine. His performance as the state’s elections chief also drew strong reviews from county election officials such as Tarrant County’s Heider Garcia for injecting openness and credibility into the process.
“I think he was fantastic,” said Garcia, who is resigning as Tarrant County elections director on June 23 following a well-publicized dispute with Republican County Judge Tim O’Hare, the county’s chief executive. “I think he’s the best secretary of state of the ones I interacted with. He was definitely very open to listening to election administrators to understand how things work.”
But, throughout his tenure as secretary of state, Scott was continuously shadowed by reports that he briefly represented former President Trump in an unsuccessful lawsuit challenging the voting results in Pennsylvania in Trump’s 2020 presidential loss to Joe Biden. Matt Angle, director of the Democratic- aligned Lone Star Project, charged in a press release following Scott’s appointment that the secretary of state’s office would be led “by someone intent on paving the way for Trump’s ‘Big Lie.’”
Scott withdrew from the case within a few days in advance of a key hearing, becoming the second attorney to do so. Asked by Fort Worth Report if he regretted initially taking the case, Sott replied: “Does no good for me to armchair decisions. I did the representation and then moved on. Some folks try to use the case to define me, but that’s their right.”
To a large degree, Scott’s life in the goldfish bowl as an Austin-based public servant has obscured his Fort Worth roots, to the point that even some fellow Fort Worth lawyers were unaware of his ties to the city. Scott also conducted much of his practice in Houston, Amarillo and Dallas, thus further lowering his Fort Worth profile.
Nevertheless, Scott’s Fort Worth connections run deep, including not only his family but a close circle of decades-long friends from his Paschal days. Though he maintains residences in both Austin and Fort Worth, Scott says only one is permanent: “I have a place in both towns, but one home, and it’s in Fort Worth.”
Throughout his 60 years, he’s always lived inside the same area code in southwest Fort Worth. Scott’s father, Bill, was a Fort Worth grain trader who died in December 2014. His mother, Jean Scott, who turns 89 in July, lives in a Fort Worth assisted living facility. His sisters Ann Payne, 70, and Sue Kitchens, 66, and brother Bill Scott, 63, also all live in Fort Worth.
Scott’s parents also attended Paschal, as did two of his siblings, his brother, and sister Kitchens. Located on Forest Park Boulevard, Paschal is the city’s oldest and largest high school, whose famous alumni include astronaut Alan Bean, philanthropist Nancy Lee Bass, former Gov. Price Daniel, actor Taylor Sheridan and gossip columnist Liz Smith.
“It’s really been a great foundation for so many lives,” Scott said.
Scott was born on June 4, 1962, in Fort Worth’s All Saints Hospital. After graduating from Paschal, he attended the University of Texas in Austin, graduating with a bachelor of arts in economics in 1985, and received his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston in 1988.
He worked with a Houston law firm in the 1980s and went to an Amarillo practice in 1990. He and his family moved back to Fort Worth in 1993, although his law practice was largely in Dallas until he joined the attorney general’s office in 2012. He returned to private practice and lobbying for the past six months after leaving the secretary of state’s office, according to his bio on LinkedIn.
“He was a top-drawer lawyer,” said David Keltner of Fort Worth, a partner with the Kelly Hart and Hallman law firm who formerly served as a justice on the Fort Worth-based Second Texas Court of Appeals. “If I was going to say one thing about John, he’s a problem-solver.”
Scott said he and his son, Andrew, have been law partners in the firm Scott & Scott and expect to revive that arrangement when his duties as interim attorney general are over. For more than two decades, the Scott family lived on Hildring Drive in southwest Fort Worth just across the street from fellow Paschal alums Steve and Susan Pike before moving to another neighborhood to seek more room for the grandchildren in 2022.
As the Pikes describe it, those were rich and unforgettable experiences as the couples watched their children grow up together and sometimes joined other Paschal alum for social occasions and dinner outings.
Scott and Steve Pike played football together at Paschal, Pike as a running back and defensive end. He and Scott also attended the University of Texas at Austin together. The Pikes were the first to live in the Hildring neighborhood, and when a home opened across the street, Susan Pike called her close friend Tally Scott to urge them “to come look at it,” recalled Scott’s old football buddy.
Recalling their days as teen-agers, Steve Pike, now chief operating officer at Harnyss in Fort Worth, said he and Scott seldom discussed lofty visions and typically just focused on the “normal stuff that guys talk about.”
“We never talked about much of anything serious,” he added. “But, the thing is, he just came from the finest family you could ever hope for – great parents, great siblings, and he just had good common sense, and that was pretty apparent early on.”
But while career goals may not have come up much in teen-age chatter, Scott said he was driven by a single plan: “Always wanted to be a lawyer as long as I can remember.”
In looking at his success-studded resume, few would argue that he stuck with it.