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Class of 1954

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(Notes posted in the order they were received, with the newest posts on top.)

Joseph O. Martin, Jr. (BA ’50) died January 2. He was 90. Joe earned both his undergraduate and law degree from Vanderbilt, and was inducted into the Order of the Coif. In 1948, Joe joined the Tennessee Air National Guard and was called to active duty in the Korean War and was stationed in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska. After returning to the Guard, he ultimately attained the rank of Brigadier General before retiring in 1983. After law school, Joe joined the law firm of Martin & Cochran which was subsequently merged and became Gullett, Sanford, Robinson & Martin. In addition, he taught for 27 years at the YMCA Night Law School (now the Nashville school of Law). For over 40 years, Joe operated the scoreboard for Vanderbilt football games and numerous Clinic Bowls. He is survived by his wife, Louise, three children and six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Posted 1.15.18

James Gheens Conn (BA’51), died June 29, 2016. He was 87. James was born in Louisville, Kentucky. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from Vanderbilt University in 1951 before earning his law degree in 1954. After graduating from Vanderbilt, James accepted a commission with the US Navy as a lieutenant on a destroyer during the Korean War. James was senior vice president for Allied Demecq, then the parent company of Maker’s Mark bourbon. He is survived by his son, daughter and two grandchildren. Posted 7.25.16

R. William Steltemeier Jr., 83, who was known to millions of television viewers around the world as the longtime associate of EWTN Foundress Mother Angelica and EWTN's first president and long-time board member, died February 15, at his home in Hanceville, Alabama, following a lengthy illness. A Nashville, Tennessee, native, Bill returned home to attend Vanderbilt Law School after attending Charminade College Preparatory School in St. Louis, Missouri. After graduating from law school, Bill entered the United States Army and served for two years in France. In 1960, he co-founded the Nashville law firm of Steltemeier & Westbrook specializing in bankruptcy and commercial law. After fifty years, the firm is still serving clients in middle-Tennessee with expanded areas of practice. Bill served his community in many ways. For more than three decades, he was engaged in assisting prisoners in both their civil and spiritual rehabilitation. He co-founded a prison Junior Chamber of Commerce program, and served on the boards of the 7-Step Foundation, Operation Comeback, and the Dismas House, organizations dedicated to helping former prisoners transform their lives. In 1975, he was appointed by the Governor of Tennessee to the state's review board for prison reform. He was ordained as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Nashville by Bishop Joseph A. Durick on April 26, 1975. Deacon Bill was among the first men in the United States to be ordained to the permanent diaconate. Following his ordination, he was appointed Catholic Chaplain to the Tennessee State Prison for Men. In 1985, he resigned from his law firm to dedicate himself full-time to Mother Angelica and EWTN. For 22 years, Bill would commute each week from his home in Nashville to the Network's headquarters in Irondale. Upon Mother Angelica's retirement from active leadership of EWTN in March of 2000, Deacon Bill took over the offices of Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer. Though he retired from the role of chief executive in 2009, he continued to serve as Chairman of the Network's Board of Governors until his death. In May 2008, the degree of Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa, was conferred upon Deacon Bill by Ave Maria University in recognition of his accomplishments and service to the Catholic Church. In October 2009, Deacon Bill was awarded the Pontifical Medal by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in recognition of his lifetime of extraordinary service to the Church. Deacon Bill Steltemeier is survived by his wife of 59 years, Ramona, who lives in Hanceville, Alabama. Posted 2.20.13

Robert Roger "Bob" Reynolds (BE'51), age 82, of Tuscaloosa, died February 4. Bob was a graduate of Vanderbilt University and was a submarine officer in the U.S. Navy aboard the U.S.S. Argonaut (SS-475). He attended Vanderbilt Law School in 1954 but later graduated from the University Of Alabama School Of Law in 1959. He was a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity and the Alabama State Bar and a previous board member of the Tuscaloosa Public Library. Pallbearers included Adolphe Catlin Cade IV (BS'75), T. Gary Fitts (BA'55) and Charles M. Miller Jr. (BA'82). Bob was preceded in death by his wife, Natalie Palmer Reynolds. He was survived by his sons, John Palmer Reynolds (BE'80) and Gordon Palmer Reynolds; and three grandchildren including, Dr. Caroline Cade Reynolds (BA'05). Posted 2.6.13

William “Bill” Willis Jr., 78, passed away on July 30, 2010, after being hospitalized for a week for complications from cancer. Willis lead the Metro Board of Hospitals for 18 years until 1993 and oversaw the merge of Metro General and Meharry-Hubbard hospitals. “For a longtime he chaired the hospital and made a real contribution in that role. But he was an exemplary leader in the law and the field of health care,” said John Seigenthaler., former Tennessean editor and publisher, and chairman emeritus of the newspaper. Willis represented The Tennessean on First Amendment Issues for many years. He handled 40 cases for the newspaper, only one of which went to trial. “In a number of cases it was the discussion to sue for open records and he was always highly successful when the paper was denied access to papers and meetings,” said Seigenthaler, a friend since 1962. “Our community has lost one of its great lawyers and I lost my great friend.” Willis represented Metro Board of Education in the protracted battle over desegregation of local schools in 1978. A former president of the Nashville Bar Association, Willis earned its highest honor in 1993 when he was awarded the John. C. Tune Public Service Award for his civic and legal service. Posted 7.31.10

James F. Durham, II, 77, passed away in Melbourne Beach, Florida, on September 25, 2008, after a brief illness of melanoma cancer. Jim was born on June 14, 1931, in Madisonville, Kentucky, to a family which had roots in Kentucky for many generations. He also earned his undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University. Following his graduation, he served as a legal officer in the U.S. Army in New York City, where he also attended graduate school at New York University School of Law. He moved to Miami in 1956 and joined Miami's oldest law firm, Shutts & Bowen, where he had a distinguished career as a real estate lawyer for 45 years. Jim served his profession as an author for The Florida Bar on mortgage foreclosure law, and he served his community as an officer of the Junior Chamber of Commerce and as a member of various boards of the City of Coral Gables, where he resided until moving to Melbourne Beach after his retirement in 2001. Jim enjoyed playing tennis at the Country Club of Coral Gables and sailing and fishing activities while a member of the Coral Reef Yacht Club. Jim was a kind, gentle, friendly and caring man who appreciated and enjoyed life. Jim is survived by his wife Kathy, four children and 13 grandchildren. Posted 11.3.08

Ernest Bland Williams III died April 20, 2008 of complications from a bicycle accident in October 2007. Born in Memphis on August 9,1928, he graduated from Sewanee Military Academy in 1946, earned his B.A. at Vanderbilt University in 1949, and graduated from Vanderbilt Law School in 1954. He spent two years in the Air Force during the Korean War as an instructor in Atomic, Bacteriological and Chemical defense. He began his law practice in Memphis at Chandler Sheperd Heiskell & Williams, a law firm founded by his father and later served as a managing partner in the firm, which is now Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz. He founded the firm's first Commercial Law Group and chaired the Interest and Usury Subcommittee of the Commercial Financial Services Committee of the American Bar Association. He was a past president of the American College of Commercial Finance Lawyers and taught commercial law at the University of Memphis School of Law, where he was one of the original instructors. A life-long pilot, he was a past president of the Memphis Soaring Society, the oldest continuously operating soaring club in the United States. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Jane W. Williams.

Steve Potts, former Ethics Resource Center Chair - who last year re-entered public service as White House Associate Counsel long after completing a stint as Director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics - has been awarded the 2007 Stanley C. Pace Ethics in Leadership Award by the ERC Fellows Program for his years of work to promote ethical conduct in the public and private sectors. Potts' public service record began with service in the Army's Judge Advocate General's Corps from 1954 to 1957, when Dwight Eisenhower was president. He served as Director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, an independent office reporting directly to the President, under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton between 1990 and 2000. "My experiences with OGE and ERC have given me great appreciation for the need to build ethical considerations into every decision that an organization makes," Potts said. He also noted that, "Durable success is fostered by ethical leadership." A former partner with the law firm of Shaw Pittman Potts & Trowbridge in Washington, Potts served on a special panel appointed by the Smithsonian Institution's Board of Regents in 2007 to examine the activities of former Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small and recommend appropriate changes in Smithsonian policies and procedures.

William Little Frierson II passed away Monday, Sept. 11, 2006, in a local hospital. He was 76. Born July 11, 1930, to Susan Lodor and Robert Payne Frierson, Mr. Frierson was named for his grandfather, a former Chattanooga mayor who served as a solicitor general of the United States in the administration of President Woodrow Wilson. At Vanderbilt, where he earned both his bachelor's and law degrees, he was president of Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity and captain of the wrestling team. He attended Naval Officer Candidate School in Newport, R.I., and was commissioned an ensign upon graduation. During his three-year tour of Navy duty, first in Chicago and later in San Francisco, he served on the Judge Advocate General's staff. Following his naval discharge, he returned to Chattanooga and joined his close friend, H.M. Poss, in business at Tennessee Hotel Supply Co. He went to work for First Federal Savings and Loan Association in 1962, where he served as senior vice president and counsel and head of the mortgage loan department. He retired in 1994 after more than 30 years of employment. He is survived by his wife, Amy Louise.

John H. Wilbur, Sr. of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, passed away peacefully April 12, 2006. He was born February 25, 1929. He earned his undergraduate degree at Vanderbilt, where he was a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity, in 1951. At Vanderbilt law school, he was a member of Order of the Coif, President of Phi Delta Phi legal fraternity, editor of the Law Review and a Fullbright Scholar to England.He served in the U.S. Army JAG Corps and retired as a Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves. During his military career, John worked in Maryland at Ft. Holabird in the Intelligence Department, where he was in charge of settling claims for the Texas city disasters. He was then transferred to the Pentagon, where prior to his retirement, he was awarded a distinguished service metal. John practiced law at the firm of Walter Armstrong in Tennessee until he moved to Jacksonville in 1963, where he worked at the law firm of Mahoney Hadlow Chambers & Adams until he founded the law firm of Wilbur & Milam in 1974. In 1984 he founded the law firm of Wilbur & Allen where he practiced until his death. John practiced before the U. S. Supreme Court and was one of 50 attorneys to participate in the Cultural Exchange in China.

Howell C. ("Red") Smith, Jr. - Vanderbilt University Law School was one of 10 academic institutions and charities to receive major gifts from the estate of Red Smith. Through his estate, Mr. Smith gave over $400,000 to the law school, along with gifts of more than $8 million to nine other institutions and charities.


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