Bar association honors pillar of Crossroads legal community

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

May 16, 2013 at 12:16 a.m.
Updated May 17, 2013 at 12:17 a.m.

Kemper Williams Jr. seen here with Mary Wheeler.Williams was honored by the Victoria County Bar Association Thursday.

Kemper Williams Jr. seen here with Mary Wheeler.Williams was honored by the Victoria County Bar Association Thursday.

"I have court today."

That usually comes as no surprise to a person who earns a living as an attorney.

For Elliott Costas, the realization hit him a little too late. Clad in a loud, pink Polo shirt with green stripes, he had about five minutes to come up with something else to wear or suffer being the butt of many of his colleague's jokes.

Desperate, he turned to the man he's shared a downtown Victoria office with for the past 23 years, Kemper Williams Jr.

"Without a word, (Williams) started undoing his tie and unbuttoning his shirt," Costas said to a large, smiling crowd Thursday night.

Co-workers, friends and family were there to watch Williams receive the Victoria County Bar Association's legacy award, given biannually and reserved for the most experienced attorneys in the profession.

"Anybody can get an award for hanging around long enough, but not everybody can bring the character and integrity Kemper brings to the award," Costas said, finishing the humorous story, which played out years ago. "Therein lies Kemper's greatness."

Attorney Ronald Walker, who opened his home for the reception, said the 10 years Williams served as mayor beginning in 1963 was often punctuated by greatness.

"He brought Victoria up to the standards of the rest of the United States," Walker said, because Williams worked tirelessly to pave the then-graveled streets.

Williams, too, was proud of that, particularly because the average taxpayers didn't foot all of the bill.

"Back then, when you wanted to build a neighborhood, you dug a couple of ditches and that's what you called the street," Williams said.

Kemper Stephen Williams said his father played a huge part in his successful bid for judge of the 135th District Court in 1995.

His father's reputation and name in the community earned him a lot of trust, he said.

The younger Williams recalled attending City Council meetings as a boy. His father had a strict policy that no meeting should ever run longer than an hour - one he still swears by to this day.

"If someone was taking too long at the podium, he would just turn his chair," Williams' son said.

Of the City Council's recent debate over whether current Mayor Will Armstrong's withdrawal from the runoff race means his opponent, Paul Polasek, is automatically his successor, the elder Williams said, "They (the council) are just looking for excuses to do what they want."

He thought someone needed to straighten them out.

Before Williams was in the political spotlight, he was a leader on the football field and basketball court, his friend, former district Judge Joseph Patrick Kelly, said.

The two were neighbors, and their families socialized in the 1950s, hosting tamale frys on a 40-acre plot of land where the Our Lady of Victory School now stands.

"He's very smart," said Kelly, a legacy award recipient in 2011. "I think any time you spend 50 years of your life doing something, something like this is very appreciated."

Williams pursued a law degree after his wife, Patricia, urged him to do so.

He had just ended his military career at Fort Benning, Ga., where he spent every Monday at a Columbus courthouse observing the driving while under the influence cases. Then, violators of that law were fined $201.

"My job was to go there and just make sure the fellas were being treated properly," Williams said. "We (my wife Patricia and I) had a great partnership for nearly 60 years, and she never failed to be there. She was a great, great person."

Patricia died last year.

Times were simpler in Victoria when Williams started out. You needed only to file a single document for most legal transactions, and he was the 37th lawyer to set up shop in town. Now, there are close to 300 attorneys.

Williams still practices law, handling mostly probate and real estate transactions.

If he could pass on one piece of advice to those just starting out in the field, it would be something his father, an insurance salesman, told him long ago and something he's passed along to his four children, 15 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

"Don't get mad. Don't get even. Just make up your mind that you're going to outlive all of those that did you wrong," Williams said.



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