Williamson, Legal Stalwart and Former Bar President, Passes Away

February 28, 2017

Thomas WilliamsonThomas S. Williamson Jr., former president of the D.C. Bar and a stalwart advocate for access to justice for all, passed away on February 24. He was 70.

Williamson was a partner and then later senior counsel at Covington & Burling LLP, which he joined in 1974, focusing his practice on employment law, complex litigation, and health and welfare law matters for state governments. He served as deputy inspector general at the U.S. Department of Energy from 1978 to 1981, and as the solicitor of the U.S. Department of Labor from 1993 to 1996.

Williamson grew up during the civil rights movement and, throughout his career, he exemplified a deep commitment to the promotion of civil rights and pro bono service. In 2007 he was honored with the prestigious Wiley A. Branton Award by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs for his work in the pursuit of equal rights.

Williamson was elected the 41st president of the D.C. Bar in 2012, making access to justice for the most vulnerable populations of the District of Columbia his number one priority to give unrepresented individuals “a fair chance to achieve and experience equal opportunity,” he told Washington Lawyer in 2012.

“Tom brought extraordinary talents to whatever he did: He was an outstanding lawyer and writer without equal. Equally prominent were his sense of humor and compassion. A very special person,” D.C. Bar CEO Katherine A. Mazzaferri said.

Williamson was a prominent fixture in the legal and public service communities, serving as a member of the D.C. Access to Justice Commission, as cochair of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and as a trustee of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. In 1998 he was appointed by President Clinton to the D.C. Judicial Nomination Commission, and then in 2002 he was elected president of Harvard University's Board of Overseers. 

With a career spanning more than 40 years, Williamson litigated race and disability discrimination class actions. In 2010 he was part of a team of lawyers from Covington who assisted in the defense of the District’s enacted same-sex marriage law.

“Tom was a skilled lawyer selected by sophisticated clients for their most important and sensitive assignments. But what was most striking about Tom to me was the thoughtfulness and empathy he exhibited as a mentor to generations of young, and not so young, men and women within our law firm and in the larger community,” said Charles E. Buffon, senior counsel and a colleague at Covington. “He genuinely cared about people, and hardly a day passed in which, over lunch or in a hallway chat, Tom didn’t take the time to think about and offer wise counsel to someone about his or her career or just life in general.”

Williamson was actively involved with the D.C. Bar long before his election as president, serving as a member of its Board of Governors from 1989 to 1992, and of its Pro Bono Committee from 1997 to 2003. He also served on the board of the D.C. Bar Foundation.

“Tom Williamson’s passing is a great loss to the Bar, the legal profession, and the community. He was a deep thinker, an incredible lawyer, and a kind person. He will be sorely missed,” D.C. Bar President Annamaria Steward said.

Born in New Jersey and raised in California, Williamson was a graduate of Harvard College, where he played varsity football; Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar; and the University of California at Berkeley School of Law.

He is survived by his wife, Shelley Brazier, and their three children. 

During the 2012 Celebration of Leadership, Attorney General Eric Holder introduced Williamson before he took the oath of office to become the Bar's 41st president. Watch Holder speak about Williamson's remarkable career and lifelong commitment to public service.