Alumnus of the Year: John Eddie Williams Jr., BBA '76, JD '78Oct. 3, 2012
2012-13 Baylor University Meritorious Achievement Awards // Alumnus of the Year
John Eddie Williams Jr., BBA '76, JD '78
When the Bears emerge from the tunnel for the first game at the new Baylor Stadium in 2014, thousands in the Baylor family will be there with grand visions of what the future holds. John Eddie Williams envisions that the moment, for him, will primarily be one of reflection.
"I'm looking forward to it, and I think it will be fun. I'm sure I'll be thinking back about the first time I stepped on the field at Baylor [now Floyd Casey] Stadium in August of 1972; never in my wildest imagination would I ever have thought that I would have the kind of success so that I could contribute in a significant way to a new stadium," says Williams, now a prominent attorney in Houston.
Part of Coach Grant Teaff's first signing class at Baylor, Williams formed a lasting bond with some of his teammates in an unofficial club known as the Stud Ducks. Many of the 31 original members remain close to this day, nearly four decades later. At Baylor football games both home and away, fellow tailgaters may have noticed duck-emblazoned flags symbolizing the group waving atop the RVs of several members. The friends stay connected to Baylor and to each other, getting together several times a year.
But despite his devotion to Baylor football, when talks about a new football stadium began to heat up, Williams wasn't convinced that the project was a very good idea. A magical 2011 season and a little persuasion from head coach Art Briles, however, coaxed Williams to change his mind.
"I'll have to admit that when the discussion about a new stadium came up, I was a skeptic and thought spending that kind of money for a facility that's used six times a year made no sense to me," says Williams. "However, I now have become a convert. I truly believe that this is the time for Baylor to build a new stadium. There's incredible enthusiasm, so we need to take that momentum and use it for something that could be really, really beneficial to the program."
Williams and his wife, Sheridan, of Houston, are active in supporting research at MD Anderson and Memorial Hermann hospitals as well as Goodfellows, a program that provides toys for underprivileged families at Christmas. They also have long been loyal supporters of Baylor, funding scholarships and providing one of the lead gifts to the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center constructed in 2002. Williams sees that donation as a sort of parallel gift on the opposite bank of the Brazos to his most recent one.
"Back when [law school] Dean [Brad] Toben came to me about the need for a new law school, it was pretty obvious we needed a new law building. We had an extraordinary faculty, but a run-down physical facility for the law school," says Williams. "I think that having the new building has made a huge difference in the performance of being able to recruit top students for the law school, and so we can make that parallel with the football stadium."
After "having seen the light," Williams thinks that a new stadium will help continue momentum for athletics success, be great for current students and recruiting, and serve as a magnet for alumni who will return to campus just to see the new stadium.
"And it makes a statement to everyone else that Baylor is committed to putting their resources into having first-class athletics facilities," he says. "It was just a few short years ago that the Big 12 was in real peril, and people were talking about whether Baylor was in the wrong conference. After this past year, we can, as Baylor fans, proudly boast about the fact that we accomplished more than any other Big 12 school. University-wide, there are so many positive things going on. I think that Baylor is in a good place right now."
Through his work as a board certified personal injury lawyer, Williams' life mission has been to bring justice to those wronged. He is the founder and managing partner of Houston law firm Williams Kherkher and has fought hard for his clients for more than three decades.
The son and grandson of longshoremen, Williams has been a passionate supporter of union workers. He specializes in representing plaintiffs in mass tort cases involving asbestos, silicosis, benzene, fen-phen, welding rod fumes and toxic waste exposure.
Williams' largest win in court came when he represented the State of Texas against the tobacco industry in 1995. Prior to this case, the tobacco industry had a record of winning 800 successive court cases. The victory in that landmark case resulted in the largest settlement in U.S. history ($17.3 billion).
"When I started law school, one of the things that was intimidating to me, having not yet received an undergraduate degree at the time, and being the son of a longshoreman, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do when I got through. I saw that the people who got the best jobs were first in their class or editor-in-chief of the Baylor Law Review. And so I was fortunate enough to be able to set and achieve those goals. It's fair to say that I was able to apply the idea of setting goals that Coach Teaff taught me as a freshman football player, in law school and in my career with some success."
Williams says he was fortunate to earn both athletic and academic scholarships to cover his degrees from Baylor.
"Somebody ahead of me provided the resources that allowed me to get those scholarships, and so I think it is my responsibility to pass it on to future generations as payback for what people had been so kind to provide for me years ago. I believe that the first-class education that I received at Baylor has been so important in whatever successes I've had. Education makes such a difference in people's lives and opportunities, and I truly believe that I have a responsibility to give back to this fantastic institution.