Williamson Remembered for Life of Service to Others

By Tracy Schorn

March 17, 2017

Thomas Williamson, Jr. Mourners came together at the Washington National Cathedral Thursday morning, March 16, to celebrate the life of Thomas Williamson Jr.—lawyer, mentor, scholar, athlete, and friend—who passed away on February 24.

Williamson, whose remarkable career spanned four decades, was a staunch advocate of access to justice and pro bono service.

"Tom wore his exceptional gifts lightly," childhood friend Auban Jackson said, addressing the packed audience that included former president Bill Clinton, former attorney general Eric Holder, and former D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Eric T. Washington, among other Washington glitterati.

Williamson's life was unquestionably an accomplished one—Harvard graduate, magna cum laude; star athlete; Rhodes Scholar; editor of the California Law Review; longtime partner at Covington & Burling LLP, where he led the employment practice group; special advisor to the National Football League; solicitor for the Labor Department; and D.C. Bar president. Yet Williamson is remembered for his greater gifts of friendship, mentorship, and service to others.

"Tom never met a teachable moment he didn't love," said Tommie Duncan, who met Williamson as a young associate in 1988. Laughing about Williamson's devotion to marking up her legal briefs, she said "he had exceptionally high standards and he would teach you how to meet them."

Williamson also was an unflagging supporter. "He made so many people feel like he was their number one fan." Williamson may have had high standards, but he was generous, helping countless young lawyers with introductions and "opportunities to shine."

Fellow attorney and college roommate Daniel Magraw praised Williamson for his "constant pursuit of justice. He never stopped advocating." Williamson, said Magraw, had a saying: "Dream of life as it should be, live life as it is." Among the social justice issues Williamson championed in his lifetime were integrating coaching at the NFL, disability services for the deaf, and advocating for gay marriage.

"He made a demonstrable difference," said Magraw. "And he helped other people make their own contributions to justice as well."