Featured Story in FLOYD VIRGINIA publication – Spring/Summer 2012
The family name Shortt, whether one or two “t”s, is easily recognizable in Floyd County. By a visit to the office at law firm of James W. Shortt & Associates, P.C., you may see a portion of Floyd County’s history and a telling of “the old days” by maps and old photos which are wall décor throughout. I had opportunity to sit down with Jim, and talk about family and his roots here in Floyd: Jim explained that his family has been in this country since the early 1600s, coming from Europe to settle as farmers and plantation owners in Surry County and later Chesterfield County, Virginia. The local Shortts have a common ancestor in Reuben Shortt, who inherited 500-600 acres of plantation land nearby the James River. Though the family had been raised as sons of the Anglican Church of England, sometime around 1790 there was a conversion to the Baptist Society. A gift of land was made to the Society, and it is suspected that a change in philosophy inspired a moving to our area in 1804. Reuben freed his slaves and purchased a large amount of acreage at the crest of the Blue Ridge – for 220 pounds – and moved his family to an area near “Shortt’s Knob Overlook”. The area was a part of Franklin County, our neighbor to the east, at that time, but later Floyd County was formed from portions of Franklin and other surrounding counties.
Two of Reuben’s sons stayed local, grew their own branches of the family tree and many of their descendents still live here. The two staying sons were named John Young Shortt and Joseph Nix Shortt. Jim is of the Joseph branch.
“Floyd County is home, there are lots of roots here”, Jim said. When I asked him about family life, I could see that he had an appreciation for how things were then, and how his rearing helped to define who he is today.
His father Roger, like many Shortts before him, was a farmer in addition to his employment with General Electric. Normal farm chores were a part of Jim’s young life, until the family leased the farm when he was 14 years old. “I was taught to be responsible” – and certainly his parents are great examples of that, still keeping up with things and helping Jim today. “I was strongly encouraged by my parents not to be a farmer”, however. Mom Margie insisted that Jim make the most of his education and upbringing.
When I asked him how he came to want to be an attorney, Jim credited the coverage of the historic Watergate scandal for sparking his interest. He referenced the Senate and Congressional inquiry. “I was enthralled with the whole process… the examinations, cross-examinations, and all the political maneuverings.” Jim tailored his education in his pursuit of these interests: at Virginia Tech initially, then law school at University of Richmond. He quipped, “when I moved back to Floyd, a lot of people who knew me asked, “Jimmy Shortt – a lawyer?””.
“I was in Richmond 10 years, 5 of those years I worked in the Attorney General’s office. I enjoyed the work – we practiced throughout the Commonwealth where the state had interests – it involved a lot of travel which I liked because I got to see new areas and meet people”.
But the city life wasn’t for Jim. “I got tired of traffic and subdivisions. I wanted to open my own private practice in a rural area where, generally, I had seen comradery amongst the lawyers in these types of communities.”
So, in 1995, Jim moved back to Floyd, looking for a home for his new practice. James W. Shortt & Associates, P.C. was founded in 1995. The law office was, and is, located in the historic “Old Floyd Press Building” in the Town of Floyd, on South Locust Street. The building was erected in 1914, built for the owner/editor of The Floyd Press, W.A. Sowers. It housed the printing presses and offices for The Floyd Press. The structure was built from soapstone brick, mined from a local quarry. In addition to The Floyd Press, silent movies were shown to the public in the upstairs of the building, and theater seating was stored in the crawl space of the building. The building has also been home to a consignment store, Blue Goose, and a Ben Franklin store before that which included an area connected with the building next door, now owned by Mauyer Gallimore.
Jim’s father and mother purchased the Old Floyd Press Building to invest some money and to allow for Jim to begin his work of being his own boss, and paying rent as well – rent that “kept pace with inflation”, he kidded. Jim began his general practice and handled a variety of legal matters.
He has served as Town Attorney for the Town of Floyd, counsel for the Floyd-Floyd County Public Service Authority, Commissioner of Accounts for Floyd County, a qualified Commissioner in Chancery and Guardian ad Litem for the 27th Judicial Circuit, and is counsel to numerous businesses, corporations, and organizations in Floyd, Patrick, Montgomery and surrounding counties. Over the years, Jim has worked with many of the local populous and says that he enjoys the people, both “old” and “new”.
Besides the people, part of the reason for Jim’s moving home: “I always liked to hunt and fish, and it’s easier here”. Jim is very familiar with Floyd County’s lands, and knows good spots for finding game. “Floyd County still has a fair amount of undeveloped forest.” When I asked about how much leisure time he was afforded with a flourishing business of law, he said “I don’t do it as much as I would like. Grouse hunting is my passion, and there are fewer and fewer grouse each year”. Jim has made trips to northern tier states like Maine to hunt. He described the experience as “a walk in the woods behind some dogs with a gun in your hand”, but admitted that he loves the pursuit of the elusive birds.
I commented that it seemed he lived a fulfilling life, and Jim said “I’ve been fortunate”. “I opened my practice “cold”, without association, which is not the way it would normally be done.
I hung out my shingle and hoped for the best. The community, my peers, even the judges were welcoming and cordial”. Jim told how, shortly before Warren G. Lineberry’s passing in 2003 – “in 2001 or ‘02, he was slowing down and I incorporated his business into mine. He was a friend and mentor, God bless him.” Jim said that his relationship with Lineberry was a help to get started and for the continuity of his practice.
Recently, Jim is associated with Charles “Pete” Beller III who has joined forces and handles important cases of litigation, personal injury, and wrongful death. The two came to know each other when they worked a couple of cases together and became friends. Jim still handles most of the real estate work and loan closings, boundary line disputes and civil litigation. The firm accepts cases and clients from Floyd County and surrounding areas.
Jim is married to Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Murray Shortt. He declared his love and appreciation for his wife, and said they took on the challenge of juggling a two-attorney family with “all the scheduling and splitting of duties”. The family resides in Floyd County – Jim, Stephanie and three sons Sam (22), Jonathan (19) and Jameson (5). Jim commented that his oldest sons are as he once was: ready to be out in the world, “like I was “too cool for Floyd”. But they might come back (I did, many do)… we’ll see”.
Written by Dee Wallace of the LCF Group