William Edward "Bill" Hailey passed away April 9, 2018 at the age of 95. He was a longtime San Antonio attorney, war veteran and former college basketball star—a quintessential product of an American era that has been described as the greatest generation.
Bill was born and raised in Houston as the son of William Henry and Katherine Hailey. He attended San Jacinto High School where he was an all-city basketball player and a starting running back on the football team as well. He had a passion for life, a strong and unwavering religious faith and a steadfast belief that everyone should be treated with an equal amount of kindness, compassion and respect. Bill lived his life by the Golden Rule. He had a penchant for bringing out the best in the people whose lives he touched and made happier in a multitude of ways.
Bill was a loving husband, devoted father and loyal friend who led by example. He was a world-class competitor and survivor as well—having been the last living member of a World War II bomber jet crew that had the first of many annual reunions in the 1980s. Bill had been in the midst of his junior year in college when he enlisted in the military immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor at the age of 19. He rose quickly through the ranks of the U.S. Army Air Corps as a commissioned officer and pilot who flew 26 missions in the European theater in a B-24 bomber from an air base near London where he was stationed. More than 26,000 fellow Eighth Air Force members died in the war. Bill lived the rest of his life as though he had been dedicating it to the Americans who fought in the war and never returned home to tell about it.
Bill had decided to attend Baylor University at the advice of his father after receiving multiple athletic scholarship offers. He led the Bears to the Southwest Conference championship in 1946 as the captain of a team that featured three war veterans and two freshmen in the starting lineup. Bill was named to several all-SWC conference teams that year. The league crown that Baylor claimed in Bill's senior year was the first of four conference titles for the Bears during a five-year period that included an appearance in the national championship game in 1948.
Bill entered the legal profession as an attorney in Amarillo where he met a church pianist named Eleanor Mansfield. Bill and Eleanor fell in love and were married in 1951 before they relocated to her hometown of San Antonio. Bill went to work in the 1950s as the lawyer for a family business that his uncle had founded and his cousin E.J. "Jimmy" Burke was running at the time. Bill was a true believer in equality and equal opportunity, and, after going into the homebuilding business with his father in the 1960s, he sold the first home to an African-American in the area in the southeast part of the city that they had developed. That home buyer was Clarence "Cito" Gaston, a San Antonio native who had been an all-star major league baseball player before leading the Toronto Blue Jays to two World Series championships as the first African-American to ever lead a team to a title.
Bill eventually returned to his original profession on a full-time basis, and he and his beloved son Joel shared a law office for many years before Bill retired in his early 80s. He was equally proud of Michael as an award-winning political writer who served as an advisor to Bob Bullock in the Texas lieutenant governor's office before returning to journalism eventually.
Bill married one of their oldest friends, Ann Wharton, after Eleanor died in 2001. Ann was an extremely devoted and loving wife for the final 16 years of Bill's life. Ann and her late husband Jim had been two of Bill's and Eleanor's closest friends since the couples' early days at Trinity Baptist Church. Bill's two sons knew that their mother would have been glad that he and Ann would be so happy together after Eleanor's death. In 2013 the Texas Senate honored Bill in a resolution for his 90th birthday. Bill is survived by his wife Ann; his sons Michael and Joel; his step-children Thomas Wharton (wife Diane), Laurie Nowak, Susan Gay (husband Eric), and six step-grandchildren.