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“Sumner Should Remember Neal, Willis With Pride”

Charles W. Bone’s article was published in the "Tennessee Voices" section of the Tennessean on October 29, 2010.

Sumner should remember Neal, Willis with pride
By: Charles W. Bone

With the passing this week of Jim Neal, 2010 has seen the deaths of two of Nashville’s leading lawyers, both of them natives of Sumner County. William R. Willis Jr. also died this year, at the end of July.

Bill and Jim were born 18 months apart on farms only a dozen miles apart at the beginning of the Great Depression when the total population of Sumner County (now over 160,000) was only 33,000.

As a student at Vanderbilt in the 1960s, and a Sumner County native myself, I was privileged to meet Jim and Bill on separate occasions and found both of them proud of their Sumner County heritage.

Both had been raised on farms, as I had been. Jim grew up in Oak Grove in northern Sumner County and Bill’s family lived between Gallatin and Hendersonville.

Both had been outstanding students and veterans. Both were graduates of Vanderbilt University Law School where they had outstanding scholarship achievements.

As a college student, I found both of these men to be especially warm and encouraging about the legal profession, and their enthusiasm for not just the law but for politics, the community and their profession.

A few short years later, as a new young lawyer, I found them to be welcoming and challenging, depending on whether we were working together or on opposite sides of legal matters. Whatever the case, I always found I learned something about law and life from these prominent men.

The good works of Jim Neal and Bill Willis are well-known in this community. We know of Bill’s outstanding legal representation of The Tennessean, his service to the legal profession as the chair of the Board of Professional Responsibility, and his commitment to the work of Nashville Memorial Hospital and the Memorial Foundation.

Lives of great service

Jim became known around the world for his prosecution of Jimmy Hoffa, his participation in the Watergate trials, and the many other famous cases of his great career.

Both have been recognized for their many accomplishments by many different professional and civic organizations.

Men of this caliber can be tempted by success to become arrogant and disinterested in the lives of others, especially the lives of young people. Not so with Bill Willis and Jim Neal. I am especially thankful that these two fine lawyers took an interest in one other young man from Sumner County.

I was blessed by their willingness to befriend and mentor me as a person, and I know I am only one of many lawyers today who will always remember Bill Willis and Jim Neal as heroes of our profession and our community.

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