PUBLISHED:September 05, 2012

Remembering a “very full life”: Neil Williams ’61

When Neil Williams passed away suddenly on Sunday, Aug. 26, he left behind a legion of shocked and saddened family members and friends — and a legacy of leadership and generosity that made an indelible mark at Duke Law School.

A dual Duke University alumnus, Williams earned his undergraduate degree in history in 1958 and his law degree in 1961. He served as chair of the Duke University Board of Trustees from 1983 to 1988 and was a founding member of the Duke Law Board of Visitors. Duke University awarded him its Distinguished Alumni Award in 1990. He also received the Law School’s Charles S. Rhyne Award in 1996.  

He was a partner in the law firm Alston & Bird in Atlanta, which he led as managing partner from 1984 through 1996. More recently, he served as chair of The Duke Endowment.  

Williams was devoted to Duke and to the Law School, serving in a variety of formal and informal advisory and volunteer roles. As a lifetime member of the Board of Visitors, he provided counsel and support to numerous Law School deans and administrators.

“Neil Williams had one of those amazing lives in and beyond the law that inspires all of us,” said Dean David F. Levi. “He was a terrific lawyer and firm manager. He was a visionary thinker who could hold in his mind the big picture as well as the important details. He was a community leader, a dedicated friend, a loyal alum and a wonderful father and husband.  His life serves as example of what a person with reach and with generosity of spirit and mind can do in the law.  Even as we appreciate all that he accomplished, and give thanks for it, we will miss him so very much.” 



Duke Today:

Alston & Bird:

The Duke Endowment:

Atlanta Journal Constitution:

Duke Law Oral History Project:

Discussing how he was recruited to the school

Recalling law faculty and his classroom experience

Recalling Duke Law Professor Hodge O'Neal


Remembrances from the Duke Law community

(to submit a remembrance for posting on this page, email Frances Presma)