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Thirty-six years ago, Northwestern College of Law was a downtown Portland, unaccredited, evening law school taught by practicing attorneys and judges. It had been in operation for a half century; and prior to that, it was the University of Oregon Law School. Then in the early 1960s, the Supreme Court of Oregon urged the school to become accredited. To do that, a law school had to become part of a recognized liberal arts college, had to hire a full-time dean and full-time faculty, open a day division for students, erect law school buildings, ensure a strong financial foundation, and rig a few other seaworthy conditions imposed by the two accrediting institutions: the American Bar Association and the American Association of Law Schools.

To that end, in 1965, the downtown law school merged with Lewis and Clark College in its academe atop a hill overlooking the Willamette River. Next, George Neff Stevens, former dean of the University of Washington Law School, was hired as the dean. Stevens then amassed a full-time faculty of four (Jack Cairns, Paul Gerhardt, Ross Runkel, and this author) and a staff (Registrar Dorothy Cornelius, Librarian Virginia Hughes, and Secretary Doris McCroskey). Together with College President John Howard, that crew set sail toward accreditation and a distant national prominence. It was no easy embarkation. Like learning to swim, it began with getting wet, a dog paddle, a lot of water through the nose.

Beginning problems included internal dissension and external dissatisfaction.

Many on the college campus wondered at the wisdom of taking on board an endeavor that was sapping finances from other needs. On the other hand, accreditors did not see enough exertion toward needs. Torn between an effort that was labeled either too much or too little, there arose a rift that climaxed in the 1969 departure of Dean Stevens. That was soon followed by some of the full-time faculty going off to other law schools and by others making ready to return to the practice of law. A new dean, Hal Wren of Boston College, was hired, but he had to delay taking the helm until the end of the academic year. And so, in the summer of 1969, there was a period in which this author was the only academic survivor with plans to stay on deck of a floundering ship. It was, to be sure, an eddy in the flow of this school's long and otherwise steady drift.

Then, into that stillness, there blew a vigorous breeze. I remember the day. I was sitting alone in the mostly empty, makeshift, faculty offices, when there entered a jolly, paronomasian, Rabelaisian cherub. His greeting was simple and direct, "Hi. I'm Bill Williamson. I'm the chief appellate counsel for the Multnomah County District Attorney Office, I want to teach law. I can help here. Have you got a place for me?" That was all he said about himself. He mostly talked about the law school and its potentials. He saw it embarked upon greatness. He was ready to leave the safety of his port in order to make things yar. He did not pretend to know much about the knots and ropes of doing that; but, as he spoke, it was absolutely clear that he would be fast in learning and fearless in trying.

So, there I was: on a leaking vessel whose lifeboats were pulling for shore, when on board comes this deliverer with his luggage, life jacket, and look for the long haul. I needed no further coaxing. He was the right man at the right time with the right stuff. Dean Wren made a hasty trip to Oregon to talk to Bill; and after a brief melding of enthusiasm between two highly spirited persons, Bill was logged on. Although he was laden with work for the school during that summer while still casting off from work in the district attorney's office, he was not officially welcomed aboard until a September 3, 1969 faculty meeting. At the next faculty meeting, just one week later, Bill was ready with presentations for commencing a law school clinic and founding a law review.

From then on, Wren wasted no time in assigning Bill all sorts of administrative tasks. Wren was fond of an old rule of job delegation: When you want to get a job done, give it to someone who is already plenty busy. That made Bill a frequent target for mundane tasks, which Bill turned into a platform from which to launch ideas and detailed proposals. He readily tackled problems and always delighted in the challenge. A yeoman and passionate builder. Nothing phased him. Where some readied themselves slowly by splashing at waters' edge, Bill went right to the deep water and jumped in.

Never concerned about his own colors, he was and always has been content to hoist the flag of others. At a time when wills were waning, he brought willingness. He comes with ideas (a breadth of them) and humor (a depth of it). Others in this law review that he founded will detail for you what those ideas were, what his humor is, and how those two values imprint this place still. But enter in the log that this writer's salute is to the redeemer who, at a time of doldrums long ago, conjured winds for this school's mighty sails.

I am not sure why the editorial board has abandoned the publication of appropriate cartoons. I would like to see them again in the law review.(1)

(*) Professor of Law, Northwestern School of Law of Lewis & Clark College.

(1) Bill L. Williamson, The First Years of Environmental Law, 20 ENVTL L. 1, 3-4 (1990). This caricature was drawn by Professor Ronald Lansing. Professor Lansing has done numerous caricatures of the Law School's faculty and staff.



Tributes are a dime a dozen. If you live long enough, you will be asked to write some and may eventually be the subject of some. Typically, a tribute contains some biographical data, a listing of accomplishments, and praise of the subject's sterling character. A tribute is usually not very difficult to write. However, when you are asked to write about your closest friend of many years, the task is much harder. How do you condense almost forty years into a few pages when those years include law school days, thirty years as teaching colleagues, literally thousands of shared lunches, as well as a succession of life's moments--triumphant, tragic, significant, and mundane?

I cannot adequately summarize Bill, so instead I choose to submit a top 10 list of moments that for me best symbolize my friend.


In a place swarming with expensive suits, neckties, and leather attache cases, Bill appears--military style crewcut, bushy mustache, Hawaiian floral print shirt, baggy slacks, and blue canvas shoes. He will never, ever be mistaken for any of his classmates.


A seminar in Jurisprudence is conducted at the homes of the participants. The digestion of the works of great thinkers is aided considerably by the consumption of fine wines. Bill, the connoisseur, teaches students how to appreciate the wines, and many never forget the experience.


In his office, Bill has converted the increasingly lame excuses of a student whose paper is late into a work of art. The first note from the student is taped to the top of Bill's bookcase, and each succeeding note is then attached to form a chain. There are around ten notes relating several months of woe, and the chain is nearing the floor.


Bill is a Deputy D.A. who has just successfully prosecuted a very complex arson/insurance fraud case. The prosecution brings together Bill's considerable courtroom skills and his disgust with white collar criminals.


Bill has filled his first office to the ceiling. There are papers and books everywhere. Some would clean and organize. Bill simply moves his operations to a vacant office down the hall and begins to fill it.


The faculty is having a retreat at one of those places that hosts retreats because no one else would ever go there. It is afternoon, and the event is dying. Discussion turns to the third year of law school with the usual suggestions of copying what some other school is doing. Bill gets the floor and says something like "If you really wanted to make the third year exciting you could...." What follows is an off the cuff presentation suggesting competing student law firms, headed by faculty members, which would negotiate, draft, and even litigate a variety of issues. The room is electrified. In the end, we never implement the suggestion as a faculty, though Bill uses portions of it in some of his classes.


My father has died recently, and my mother needs help as she moves from the family home. Bill takes a week from his summer to accompany me to California. We clean the garage while dodging Black Widow spiders. We hold an estate sale and box the unsold items for the Salvation Army. It is hot and dirty work. Bill never complains. Instead, he entertains my mother with an assortment of stories that distract her from the sadness of the time.


The Dean of the law school seems to feel Bill should publish more and expresses his displeasure in a variety of ways. Bill begins work on a writing project. Upon completion, the article is published in the Journal of Legal Education. Bill's lighthearted essay defends the thesis that law school deans are unnecessary, and we would be better off without them.


Dean Harold G. Wren wants to get this law school fully accredited. He thinks that a law review will help. Bill is assigned the task of creating a law review. Bill first concludes that a general topic law review is likely to be lost in the crowd of general law reviews. A specialty review, however, could gain immediate interest and notoriety and be attractive to authors and subscribers. Why not environmental law? It is a brand new field, and the topic is particularly relevant to the Northwest. Bill creates Environmental Law and micro-manages each and every detail until student editorial boards have the experience to run it themselves. The review is the cornerstone of our nationally recognized program and the stunning growth of our school.


The Class of 1975 is having its 25th Reunion. It is extremely well attended. Bill was originally not scheduled to be there for health reasons. Members of the class volunteer to transport him to and from the event, so he is there after all. There is an "open mike" after dinner, and members of the class and faculty speak. Bill is called to the microphone. There is some concern because it has been a long day, and Bill's health problems are recent. He eloquently expresses his love for the Class and joy at being part of the Reunion. Bill is the star of the evening.

Happy Retirement Bill! This place is not the same without you.

(*) Edmund O. Belsheim Professor of Law, Northwestern School of Law of Lewis & Clark College.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Bill Williamson, Northwestern School of Law, Lewis & Clark College
Author:Lansing, Ronald B.
Publication:Environmental Law
Article Type:Testimonial
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Mar 22, 2001
Previous Article:Section 6217 of the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments of 1990: is there any point?
Next Article:Remembering Bill Williamson.

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