Wilson “Woody” Sims dead at 97

Jul 5, 2022

Wilson “Woody” Sims of Nashville died at his home on June 26. He was 97.

Read Sims’ Bass Berry & Sims obituary.

Sims entered Vanderbilt University in June 1942, the same year he enlisted with the Marine Corps Reserve. After attending Vanderbilt for a year, he was sent by the Marine Corps to active duty at the University of North Carolina, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1946.

Wilson “Woody” Sims ’48 at the Sims Lecture featuring Justice Stephen Breyer in 2010

He then attended officer’s school at Quantico, Virginia, and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in 1945. He was assigned to the Commandant’s Intelligence Staff, a member of a team planning the proposed invasion of Japan. He was discharged from active duty upon the war’s conclusion.

Sims earned his law degree from Vanderbilt in 1948 and then joined the Nashville law firm of Bass Berry & Sims, which had been co-founded by his father, Cecil Sims ’14.

He was recalled to active duty in the Korean War in 1950, assigned to the Naval School of Justice in Providence, Rhode Island, and served for two years as a legal officer.

Sims practiced law with Bass Berry & Sims for more than 50 years, beginning as a trial attorney throughout Tennessee and eventually engaging in trials across the country. Over time, his practice shifted to labor law and then to general business practice.

Over the course of his career, Sims was general counsel or served on the boards of directors of over a dozen public and privately held companies. In later years, his practice focused exclusively on commercial litigation and business consulting.

Sims was a leader in the legal profession for decades. He served terms as president of both the Nashville and the Tennessee Bar Associations and as speaker of the TBA’s House of Delegates. He was a founder and first chairman of the Tennessee Bar Foundation and served as president of the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee. He was a member of the American Bar Association and the American Judicature Society and a life member of the American Bar Foundation.

He lectured to the Tennessee Bar Association on pro-bono work, the Tennessee Medical Association on medical malpractice and the Tennessee Manufacturers Association on labor matters.

Sims was also actively involved in the political affairs of the state of Tennessee, serving in the 1960s as chairman of the Tennessee Commission on Human Relations, with a focus on racial issues and civil rights. In 1959 and 1960, he was chairman of the Davidson County delegation in the Tennessee Legislature, helping to create and pass legislation terminating the state income tax.

In 1987, the Supreme Court of Tennessee cited Sims “for his leadership and service to the legal profession as the first chairperson of the Commission on Continuing Legal Education.” In 1988, he was awarded the highest honor of the Nashville Bar Association, cited for his “outstanding contributions to his community and faithful service as a member of the Bar.”

A loyal Tarheel, Sims was a life member of the Chancellor’s Council and member of the Board of Visitors and Gerrard Society of the University of North Carolina.

A devoted Vanderbilt Commodore, he was a life member of the Chancellor’s Council, a member of the Oak Leaf Society and the Alumni Association Board of Directors. He served the law school as founder of the Dean’s Council and president of the Alumni Association and received the law school’s Distinguished Service Award.

In 1972 he and his family established the Cecil Sims Lecture Series to “bring to Vanderbilt Law School distinguished men and women with extensive legal experience to associate informally with faculty and students.” The lecture series honored Sim’s father, Cecil Sims, a 1914 first-honor graduate of VLS and a founding member of Bass Berry & Sims. Past speakers have included numerous Supreme Court justices, including William Rehnquist, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Sandra Day O’Connor, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer, Sonya Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch.

Active in community service, Sims served on the boards of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, the Hillwood and Belle Meade Country Clubs, and the Nashville YMCA. He was a member of the Watauga Society and supported United Cerebral Palsy of Middle Tennessee, the Tennessee Kidney Foundation and Matthew 25 Inc. He was a trustee of Meharry Medical College for 20 years and The Webb School for 70 years, where he earned the Distinguished Alumnus Award. He was a member of the President’s Society of Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tennessee, and a long-time member of Nashville Society of Amateur Chefs.

In his later years, he and his wife, Linda Bell Sims, tutored elementary school children in Nashville’s public schools.

He enjoyed hunting, fishing and golfing.

He is survived by his wife of 74 years, Linda Bell Sims; three children, Linda Rickman Baer and husband Terry Blair, Suzanne Sims Haizlip and husband Wilson Haizlip, and Wilson Sims Jr. and wife Ann Sims, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His older brother Cecil Sims Jr. was killed in action in World War II.

A Celebration of Life Service for Woody Sims is scheduled on Wednesday, July 6, at 11 a.m. at West End United Methodist Church in Nashville. Live stream of the service will be available at: www.westendumc.org/livestream.

In lieu of flowers, the family respectfully requests remembrances be made to The Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee; Vanderbilt Law School, or West End Methodist Church in Nashville.