by Jackson Tate
A Doss in the Life
As Chriss Doss walks through his home, he sees the rows of disorganized bookshelves in his personal library and the many historical artifacts he has obtained over the years. He approaches the desk where he has often worked late nights, a beautiful stained glass window looming behind it. He notices the cardboard cutouts of Elvis Presley and George Clooney looking back at him over the banister, and in the mirror, he sees himself.
He sees the wrinkled hands that have worked for so long, and the weathered brow that has assumed this same pondering look so many times before. Most importantly, he sees the faint smile on his face and the twinkle of curiosity and amusement in his eyes. This look has never left him in all his years, and it appears again tonight as he ponders the three objectives that he is going to strive toward in the morning. He stays awake every night and ponders these consistently changing goals, hoping that they will lead him to new discoveries, his curiosity never satisfied.
Doss has been curious since his birth in Cullman, Alabama, almost 89 years ago. That curiosity arose from his early years growing up on a farm, watching plants emerge from the ground and tadpoles transform into frogs. That same curiosity followed him throughout his life. His wife, Harriet Doss, has even affectionately nicknamed him “Curious Chriss.”
Curious Chriss started his career as a pastor in Philadelphia after graduating from Samford University in 1957. While pastoring the church, he studied at Drexel University, which eventually led him to become the law librarian at Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham. Through that job, Doss eventually joined the Democratic Executive Committee as the executive director, where he helped develop the state’s Civil Rights legislation. The work they did was so influential that Doss’ own life was threated by a pipe bomb in his mailbox, and he unfortunately saw others die in the same way.
After taking a step back, Doss continued to work in the law field, serving a four-year term in the Alabama House of Representatives and writing the 1973 Alabama Code of Ethics that has been used by multiple other states. In addition, he served as president of the county commission, president of the Alabama Historical Association and the first director of the Samford University Center for the Study of Law and the Church. Doss did incredible work for the community through his extensive career. Whether pastoring a church, supervising a law library, legislating for civil and state rights in Alabama or settling church disputes in downtown Birmingham, Curious Chriss has never tired.
That tirelessness stems from Doss’ passion, a passion to learn, grow, change and help. He allows these interests to motivate him to continue to practice law even today, where he settles disputes among churches and maintains public reputations for the good of his clients. The question is, at 88 years old, with more experience than most could ever hope to have, why does Doss continue to work? What drives his passion to work that allows him to continue to contribute to society?
“Well, I like to do it!”
The answer was as simple as that, yet within that statement, Chriss Doss had so many more things to say.
Doss’ Interest in Change
Doss loves to learn. As he watched the change that transformed his surroundings, he has not merely observed and faded away. No, Doss did not only put forth his best effort to understand that change and the people involved in it, but he has made himself a part of it. His interest and his desire to understand everything around him allows Doss to passionately state that he loves his job. It is the idea of understanding why people and entities change that has driven Doss to care about those people and their cause.
In fact, he sees this change as a natural part of human life. “We have to grow and keep growing,” Doss stated. “People move and constantly change. And there is always a reason why.”
It is that very statement that drives Doss forward. As his approach to his job and to his life have changed throughout the years, his ultimate objective and his interest to understand the why of life has remained the same. In the same way that he watched the plants grow and the tadpoles transform in his youth, Doss has watched the growth and change in the people around him.
“Humans have changed, but human nature really hasn’t changed over the years, we just don’t know it,” Doss said. “I don’t think there’s as much difference among people as we think there is. There is a core within every individual, and it is important that that core maintain a healthy state. If individuals can kindly understand what makes those cores tick, and how a given situation really impacts them, they can make a whole lot in society. Within these situations, though, we must always maintain a standard. We must change with a purpose, even if that purpose might hurt.”
Doss would certainly know about changing with a purpose. To cite a specific instance, in the 1960s and 1970s, he worked with people of the Black community and other legislators to help formulate laws that further progressed the Civil Rights Movement. Despite backlash, Doss continued to work with those influential people to change the Southeast for the good of its residents.
Doss’ Own Pains and Changes
Because of his experience doing difficult jobs, Doss is no stranger to this change and pain himself. He has been a part of the change in society and culture over the past 88 years. As he reflected, Doss shared that his life has been a series of turmoil and hardships. Doss lost his first wife, he lost elections, he watched as friends were killed and as his own life was threatened and almost taken away. He has seen the corruption of the world in its full force.
In 2023, Doss experienced a TIA, an indicator of a potential stroke. He was told that his health was deteriorating and that his ability to continue to try cases was fading. Now, as he sits at his desk, he is tended to by his wife and his granddaughters, who look after him in his fleeting health. Yet in all this, Doss believes that no matter what is taken from you, nothing can ever take your hope. No one can ever take your reason why, and he has shown that throughout the way he has lived his life.
Doss for the Future
His wife, Harriet Doss, described him as having a very onward looking approach to life, saying, “Chriss continues to work in any way he can because he wants to know what he can still do with the time he has left.”
Doss continues to work because he still wants to understand change and be an influence in it. Within all of the transformations that he has experienced and been a part of, he has seen a goal, a positive standard that people can hold on to. It is because of this goal that Doss has a great hope for the future.
“I am very optimistic that the state of Alabama has a beautiful and a very healthy future if people will concentrate on what they have to be positive about. You must make sure that the situation in which you are dealing with does not cripple you or deter you from living a full life. That is very hard, but it is so sad when people let a bad experience just gut them. When we mess up, we must learn from it.”
After everything Doss has experienced, he has never tired. He has never lost faith in himself and the people around him. He wants to know these people; he constantly wants to understand and relate to their cause. Doss lives this way because he knows his reason why. Because of this reason, this why, he continues to move onward every day. If there is anything to learn from Chriss Doss, it is this:
To be a better society, to live a fulfilling life as people, we should all pursue and understand each other’s why… as well as our own.