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Big dreams, big personality result in big success for WC alumnus Paul Wingo

Paul WingoPaul Wingo has always dreamed big. From traveling to his career as a lawyer to his hobbies in theatre, music and photography, Wingo does nothing halfway.

After graduating from Weatherford High School in 2000, he fulfilled his dream of traveling across Europe, and it was that gap year that taught him a valuable life lesson.

“No one actually gave any care about me in the world, especially if I didn’t have talent, skills, education or money,” he said. “So, I realized very quickly the price of freedom was being poor.”

As he slept on the streets of Europe either due to bad planning or a lack of funds, Wingo decided he needed an education. When he returned home, he enrolled at Weatherford College and was granted a choral scholarship.

While at WC, Wingo took his time taking classes and was actively involved on campus in the music program, theatre arts and was elected student body president.

“I was able to get a very broad basis in a lot of different subjects,” he said. “As I think back on my life and I look at the experiences I’ve had I honestly think that Weatherford College was by far the best.”

He named Mike Endy, now vice president of instruction and student services, and choir director Rob Laney as the two most influential people he met during his time at WC.

“Mike Endy was probably one of the more transformative people that I ever met as a young person from Weatherford,” Wingo said.

While in Endy’s class, Wingo participated in a production of the Mystery of Edwin Drew where he ended up taking on the lead role after the initial cast member dropped out. He had a large amount of dialogue to memorize in a short amount of time, but he said it was one of his greatest experiences.

“That show gave me the courage that I felt like I could do a lot of things,” Wingo said.

Laney took a chance on Wingo by providing him a choral scholarship, and even though Wingo is not a musician today he continues to perform at weddings and other large events.

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“I firmly believe that part of the reason Mike and Rob are so impactful is because the arts let you experience and learn and understand things that have such large implications,” Wingo said. “It allows for you, no matter where you are, to have a bigger understanding of the human experience. And to have that impact as a young man and to see that made the world seem so much more accessible to me.”

While attending WC, Wingo connected with a local lawyer and kick-started his career path. He recognized one of the biggest obstacles to running a law office was knowing how to manage a business, so he decided to major in business entrepreneurship once he transferred to the University of North Texas.

From there, he transferred to the University of Houston Law School, and he credits the foundation laid at WC with his success in his higher education and his career.

“It really was a platform that allowed me to have what has been an interesting and successful life,” he said.

After taking the bar exam in July 2009, Wingo moved back to North Texas with no job and $115,000 in debt.

“None of which was from Weatherford College,” he said.

As he was cold-calling law offices trying to schedule job interviews, he received a call from Ben Abbott that changed his life. During his first summer in law school, Wingo clerked in Weatherford in Bill Cantrell’s law office, and through networking established a relationship with Abbott, a local personal injury attorney who was known for flashy advertisements.

Abbott called and asked Wingo “How fast can you be here?” And within 45 minutes Wingo said he was at the law office with a personalized folder for Abbott containing a cover letter and writing samples. He was hired on the spot.

“It comes back to the old adage: Luck is where opportunity meets preparation,” Wingo said. “You have to take looking for a job just as professionally as having a job. It’s a brutal process. It’s a lot of heartache and a lot of rejection. But if you’re that professional, you will find something.”

From this first lucky break, it didn’t take long for Wingo’s career to take off. He said Abbott provided him a clear path to the future he desired, and within two years of leaving law school Wingo had a team of five attorneys working for him. Another two years into his relatively young career as a lawyer and Wingo was named partner.

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“That’s the point where I then ended up on billboards and TV and had commercials for several years,” Wingo said.

His face could be seen across Dallas on billboards demanding people “Stand up and fight!” and on TV he proclaimed, “You gotta call Paul!”

As Wingo continued to network with attorneys he realized his position with Abbott did not hold long-term viability for him. So, his partnership in the firm was bought out and he went to work on his own. Later, he was introduced to attorney Chris Hamilton, and the two became fast friends.

“We had very different experiences,” Wingo said. “He was one of the top litigators in the United States. He is the kind of person you call when a family has been destroyed, a business has failed because someone fraudulently stole from it—high-stakes contingency litigation. And then I had been the ‘You gotta call Paul!’ personal injury lawyer with smaller cases.”

Over the next year-and-a-half, the two “lawyer dated,” as Wingo phrased it and in July 2017 formed the Hamilton Wingo law firm.

During their short time working together, the duo has undertaken several high-profile cases including helping airline passengers who found themselves stranded at the DFW International Airport in 2016 following President Donald Trump’s travel ban that went into effect while many people were in midflight.

“There were all of these gut-wrenching situations where families were being ripped apart and no one had any answers,” Wingo said. “People were showing up to the airport, and it was bedlam. It was some third-world country kind of nightmare.”

Helping people in these kinds of situations is why Wingo earned his law degree, he said. So he, Hamilton and a slew of other local attorneys headed to the airport and set up shop in a board room. They worked night and day for a week to clear people who were being detained at the airport.

“That’s part of the beauty of America,” Wingo said. “We have checks and balances. So, if things are not agreed upon, no one is the ultimate king or dictator. We have ways we can fight it out, and that’s how we balance our democracy.”

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Shortly after the travel ban, a close friend of Wingo’s whom he met through his wife, Brina, was severally beaten in the parking lot of a Dallas Target store. On his way into the store, Derek Whitener saw two men in masks with a large wooden rod chasing people through the parking lot. As the men started to approach Whitener, he darted inside, informed customer service about the suspicious men and asked if he should call the police. The Target employees told them they had security officers and they would take care of the situation, Wingo said.

After making his purchase, Whitener verified with the same staff members that it was safe for him to leave the store and they assured him that it was.

“He goes outside and the two guys are sitting behind his car and they said to him as they proceeded to beat him, ‘We heard you fear us, we’ll give you something to fear,’” Wingo said. “They hit him very hard on the head with this wooden rod and crushed his skull on the right side.”

While at the hospital, the incident became an international media story so Wingo and Hamilton stepped in to help. Whitener slowly recovered from his injuries as the attorneys looked into the details of the situation. The pair resolved the case in court, although Wingo can’t go into details about the outcome, and Whitener was able to move on with his life.

“As far as any case I’ve worked on, the hardest case is working on one when it’s someone you love and care about,” he said. “It was a siren call to me realizing that because of the life that I’ve had—growing up in Weatherford, going to Weatherford College, experiencing arts, experiencing business, experiencing a variety of different things—I can go into situations that are very traumatic and use my big personality to try to prop up the ceiling while things are collapsing to try and figure out how we can make the best decisions possible. I’ve been lucky to find a true calling that has spoken to me more than anything else in my life these past few years.”

In his typical Wingo flair, he called these “the two bromance cases that really solidified the fact that Chris and I wanted to do this partnership.”

Wingo’s future goals, in addition to growing his firm, is to use his networking abilities and large personality to create open lines of dialogue in the communities he’s involved.

“Most people are good people,” Wingo said. “They want a safe and comfortable place for their family, clean water, that they feel they have a chance at some sort of career, dignity in their lives. So, through that I find that the arts are one of the best ways to try and convey that.”

He is already on the board of several local theatres and non-profits in the Dallas area, and, as he continues to grow his career, he hopes to find ways to also give back to his hometown at WC.

“I think these kinds of institutions are more of what we need to have,” Wing said. “They are accessible, reasonably priced and they don’t put people into debt.”

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