When O.D. Kenemore, a pipefitter in the fume-filled plants of Dow Chemical, was working as a union representative in the early 1950s, he surely knew the safer working conditions he was fighting for would have a positive impact on the lives of his co-workers and their families. He may not have realized the long-lasting impact he would have on workers across the state — and even on someone much closer to home.
After his initiation into the pipefitters union, Kenemore went on to serve as president of the Tidelands Central Labor Council and later as vice president and trustee of the Texas AFL-CIO. In 1990, he was appointed as an employee representative on the Texas Workers’ Compensation Commission by Republican Gov. Bill Clements. He was reappointed by Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat, and continued serving while George W. Bush was governor. He served as chair of the commission, helping to write rules concerning the administration of the Workers’ Compensation Act. He was inducted into the Texas Labor Hall of Fame in 2002.
“He was best known in the labor movement for his fierce support of injured workers during his service on the Texas Workers’ Compensation Commission,” said Kenemore’s grandson, Jason Gibson ’95. “He was working with a law that was slanted toward employers and insurers, but he dedicated himself to learning the system, and I was always impressed with how injured workers and their families came to him for help. Through his sheer will, he created the best possible situation for working people.”
Union workers and politicians weren’t the only ones watching Kenemore work; Gibson was watching and was formulating his own plans to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. After graduating magna cum laude from SFA, Gibson earned a law degree from the University of Houston in 1998 and took up the family business.
By age 31, Gibson had accumulated more than $80 million in settlements and verdicts and was one of the youngest lawyers ever to have served on the board of directors for both the Houston Trial Lawyers Association and the Texas Trial Lawyers Association. Gibson later went on to serve as president of the Houston Trial Lawyers from 2011 to 2012.
Gibson was the lead attorney and first to file suit against Tyler Pipe Industries Inc., resulting in the establishment of a $500 million fund for former workers suffering from lung disease, mostly silicosis and asbestosis.
“Basically, it is impossible to sue an employer who offers workers’ compensation,” Gibson explained. “So many people had been hurt at this facility, but their attorneys weren’t going after Tyler Pipe. I started looking into it and realized, for tax incentives and a more lucrative financial position, Tyler Pipe Foundry was a wholly owned subsidiary of Tyler Pipe Industries Inc., the parent company. The parent company didn’t provide workers’ compensation and controlled the foundry, so they were fair game.”
In 2010, a jury awarded $14 million to one of Gibson’s clients who was severely burned in a 2007 tanker explosion. It was named one of the top verdicts in the state by the research organization Verdict Search.
More recently, Gibson won a $53 million settlement for the family of a 28-year-old man, Angel Garcia, killed in 2013 while working on the construction of a football stadium in College Station.
“If the general contractor did not complete the facility by a certain date, they had to pay $1.5 million for each game the team wasn’t able to play in the facility,” Gibson stated. “As a result, basic safety fell through the cracks, and bad decisions were being made.”
During the trial, Gibson said the company’s lawyer had tried to paint the family as not having a very close relationship. “I put Mr. Garcia’s young daughter on the stand and asked her about the last conversation she had with her dad. She recalled that the last thing he asked her was what she wanted for Christmas. So, that strategy definitely backfired on them.”
Born in New Braunfels, Gibson grew up in Lake Jackson and graduated from high school in Sugar Land. One of the benefits of enrolling at SFA centered around his family — Gibson’s uncle lived in Nacogdoches. While his extracurricular activities included boxing, Gibson also had an interest in theatre.
“I grew up in a single-parent household, so I knew my first priority was a career that would allow me to support myself,” Gibson said. “However, I always enjoyed acting, and I never really gave up on it.”
Gibson produced and played a role in the 2015 film Blunt Force Trauma with Mickey Rourke and Freida Pinto, and he played Anthony Hopkins’ right-hand man in Misconduct in 2016. He has roles in three movies that will be released next year.
Even as an actor, Gibson could not escape the reality of the pain induced by work-related injuries. On one of the sets of Blunt Force Trauma, an abandoned train station in Bogotá, Colombia, Gibson was wearing a bullet-proof vest that featured small pockets filled with explosives.
“Of course the guns were shooting blanks, but a person standing off camera would detonate the explosives so it appeared that bullets were hitting the vest. They warned us to keep our hands out to the sides and not directly in front of our bodies, because if the explosives hit our hands, it would be painful.”
Unfortunately, two explosive pockets in Gibson’s vest were installed incorrectly, and rather than discharging from the front of his vest, they blasted directly into his stomach and chest.
“I never broke character,” Gibson recalled. “I fell to the ground and remained there until Freida Pinto’s character walked over to me and added insults to the injury she had already inflicted on my character. When the director yelled, ‘Cut,’ I jumped up and just tore my vest and shirt off.”
Fortunately, the production company had a medic on standby to tend to such injuries. “The building we were in was just filthy,” Gibson said. “The medic didn’t speak English, and I’m not even sure that he had washed his hands, but he rubbed a lotion of some sort on the burns and indicated that I would be fine.”
Despite the allure of his recent accomplishments, Gibson is not giving up his day job and looks forward to his days in the courtroom, often feeling that his grandfather is there with him in spirit.
“When I was just starting out, one of my grandfather’s favorite things to do was to come to court and watch me work,” Gibson said.
Gibson welcomed his grandfather’s presence because he felt it helped him establish a rapport with his audience.
“You have to develop a relationship with each member of the jury, so that he or she feels they know who you are and see you, not just as an attorney, but as a fellow human being. I generally start out by telling a story that has nothing to do with the case, usually about my personal life. But when my grandfather was alive and in the courtroom with me, he made it easy for me. Sometimes before I could even point him out, someone would ask, ‘Who’s the old guy?’ And I would say, ‘Oh, him? That’s my grandpa.’”