Program to Honor Retired Judge Cantrell

April 12, 2016

From the Paris Post-Intelligencer

The Palmersville Historical Society will present an evening of reminiscence and celebration, commemorating the 50-year legal career of judge and Palmersville native Ben H. Cantrell at 7 p.m. April 29 at the Old Baptist Church/Masonic Lodge just off Highway 190 in Palmersville.

Cantrell will conclude the evening with a few words of his own, giving insight into his upbringing in Weakley County and the  journey through his legal career.


Cantrell retired as an active judge in Tennessee effective April 1, ending his 34 years as a member of the state judiciary.

He served for seven years as a trial judge on the Chancery bench in  Davidson County and for 23 years as an appellate judge on the Middle Section of the Tennessee Court of Appeals. 

For the past four years, Cantrell has served as a senior judge for the Tennessee Supreme Court. He also taught Remedies at the Nashville School of Law for 26 years, instructing students from across the state.   

Cantrell was born and raised in Palmersville, the fifth and youngest child of Cecil and Hilda Cantrell. He graduated from Palmersville High School in 1952.

He attended then-Bethel College from 1952-54. In 1957, he graduated from the School of Engineering at Vanderbilt University with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

From 1957 through 1963, Cantrell worked for Atlantic Richfield Oil Co. at various locations in Kansas, Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico.

After six years in the West, he decided to return to Tennessee to pursue the profession of law.

He obtained his law degree at the University of Tennessee in 1966 with honors, and started his law practice with the Nashville firm Gullett, Steele and Sanford.

He later practiced law with former Gov. Frank Clement and Grant Smith before being elevated to the bench upon appointment by Gov. Winfield Dunn in 1973.

He ran for the position of chancellor in 1974 and was elected to that seat for a full term.

As a chancellor, the judge heard many constitutional cases impacting the state, such as ordering the reform of the state penal system in 1975.

In 1980, Cantrell was appointed to the State Court of Appeals,  Middle Section, by Gov. Lamar Alexander. He served as presiding judge of the Middle Section of the Court of Appeals from 1998-2003. 

In 2003, he returned to private practice with the Nashville firm of Tune, Entrekin and White, specializing in mediation and arbitration.

In 2012,  Cantrell returned to his judicial career with his appointment to Senior Judge by the Tennessee Supreme Court. 

Cantrell completed two terms as a Senior Judge, handling court cases all across the state and in every type of court, criminal as well as civil. Even in retirement, he plans to continue with mediations/arbitrations. 


Cantrell has served as the president of the Palmersville Historical Society since 2010. He also has served as the chairman of the board of trustees of Bethel University from 2006 to 2009, and again from 2012 to the present. 

He is married to Rose Cantrell, formerly of  Chattanooga, herself a retired Nashville attorney, and they are the parents of two grown daughters, Laura and Julie.

Judge Ben Cantrell