Jackson, Miss. -- Bill Goodman, age 91, died peacefully on January 7, 2021, from complications of Covid-19. A highly regarded lawyer, he is also well remembered for his warmth, intellect, wit, knack for storytelling, and deep love for his family.
A Jackson native, son of the late Marguerite Watkins Goodman and William Flournoy Goodman, Bill was born on Valentine’s Day in 1929. In a sense, he “grew up” at Millsaps College where his mother was a renowned teacher of English and the small family home was literally adjacent to the campus. He received his early education in the Jackson public schools.
Although the Great Depression directly impacted his family, Bill’s childhood memories revealed a happy life shared with his immediate family and grandparents. He vividly recalled church camps, swimming ponds, sports, and innocent shenanigans—including falling off of a mule on the Millsaps campus, which resulted in a broken arm, a broken violin, and what Bill considered to be a happy end to his musical career.
In 1946, he graduated from The Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, where he was class valedictorian and senior class president, played intramural sports, and served as editor of the school paper. (Typically self-deprecating, Bill was quick to explain that these honors came his way only because the classmate with the highest grades and the one with unsurpassed popularity were both expelled before graduation for violation of strict boarding school rules—a fate he himself barely escaped.)
In the summer of 1946, Bill enrolled at Millsaps College where he enjoyed every minute of his undergraduate education, serving as Number 1 of the Kappa Alpha Order, president of Omicron Delta Kappa, and as a member of the school debate team. In 1997, the college named him its Alumnus of the Year. But the most significant moment of Bill’s college career occurred during his sophomore year when he met his future bride, Edwina McDuffie, of Aberdeen, Mississippi. He quickly became smitten with the newly enrolled freshman at Belhaven College, who happened to have a powerhouse operatic voice and later became an accomplished painter. They quickly became college sweethearts, destined for a life together.
In the summer of 1949, aided by two part-time jobs and a small scholarship, Bill enrolled in the University of Mississippi School of Law. He was active on the staff of the Law Journal and excelled in moot court. He also served a term as president of Phi Delta Phi honorary legal fraternity. While working part time all the way through, Bill completed both undergraduate and law school in less than five years.
After taking his finals two months early and graduating “with distinction” in 1951, he enlisted in the United States Army, reaching the rank of first lieutenant during the Korean War. Granted a last-minute leave, Bill married Edwina, the love of his life, following her graduation from Belhaven, beginning a blissful 64-year marriage. Bill would say Edwina’s talents kept their home alive with music and aglow with art. No matter what opportunity or challenge came along, Bill felt that Edwina’s optimism and persistence were always present.
Following the completion of his military service in 1953, Bill and Edwina settled in Jackson, and he began the practice of law at Watkins & Eager—a brilliant career that lasted over 60 years. Bill knew from the outset, and never forgot, how fortunate he was to work at the firm established in 1895 by Will Watkins, his beloved maternal grandfather. That good fortune provided an accelerated path for him over time to handle a state-wide diversified law practice in both state and federal courts and on both the trial and appellate levels. Through the years he had the pleasure of practicing with several family members, ranging from his grandfather to his grandson.
Bill worked tirelessly at his chosen and beloved profession. At a relatively early age (in 1972), he was invited into the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers. In his early forties, he had the opportunity to argue a case before the Supreme Court of the United States, the first of several appearances before that high court. He was later invited into the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers. He was also honored with invitation-only memberships in the Mississippi Bar Foundation and the American Bar Foundation and enjoyed a longtime affiliation with the Charles Clark Chapter, American Inn of Court.
Bill served as president of the Mississippi Defense Lawyers Association and the Hinds County Bar Association. He received professionalism awards from the Hinds County Bar Association (2001), the Mississippi Bar Foundation (2004), and the Mississippi Defense Lawyers Association (2011).
Decades later, when Bill was named the 2009 Alumnus of the Year of the University of Mississippi School of Law, Sam Davis, dean of the law school, said, “Bill Goodman is perhaps the most highly respected member of the Bar in Mississippi. It seems trite to say it, but he is a real lawyer’s lawyer, a highly skilled advocate, the personification of professionalism, and the epitome of a Southern gentleman.”
For many years Bill was a member of the Board of Directors and of its Executive Committee of Trustmark Corporation and Trustmark National Bank. He remarked many times that this relationship with Trustmark was one of the highlights of his career.
In 2009 he received the Mississippi Bar Lifetime Achievement Award. He also served as co-chair of the campaign to finance what is now the Robert Khayat Law Center at the University of Mississippi. In 2010, Bill was surprised and humbled by being one of five selected for the inaugural class of the then newly-established University of Mississippi School of Law Hall of Fame.
Bill was a member of the Rotary Club, he served a term on the Board of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce and a term as President of the Country Club of Jackson, and he was a charter member of Annandale Golf Club.
Bill was a lifelong member of Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church where members of his mother’s family (Watkins family) have worshipped for seven consecutive generations. Through the years, he served on numerous committees, including positions as finance chairman, lay delegate to the Mississippi Conference, chairman of the Board of Stewards, and multiple terms on the Pastor Parish Relations Committee, including several years during his eighties.
Bill’s other great pleasures included golf (he wished he had learned to play as a child), bridge, and the vacation home in Highlands, North Carolina, that he and Edwina enjoyed for over 20 years. He had a nice voice and truly enjoyed singing the old hymns (as well as some old country songs and maybe a few ditties from his Kappa Alpha days). He was also a great dancer, something he and Edwina enjoyed throughout their marriage.
But even with Bill’s impressive dedication to the law, family and friends took center stage in his life. Bill supported and encouraged Edwina throughout her musical and artistic endeavors. He likewise took great pride in the accomplishments of his children and grandchildren and was thrilled upon the arrival of each new great-grandchild.
Embracing his role as “Grandpaw,” Bill carved out time in his schedule for visits with his grandchildren, creating decades of memories to cherish. Collectively, they recall his charismatic personality—especially his ability to inform and entertain a room of hundreds as well as the sensitivity to make an individual feel as if they were the only person in the world when speaking one-on-one. Whether playing cards or golf, or having a wide-ranging conversation (football, golf, art, politics, history, law) over lunch, Bill always talked with (not down to) his grandchildren. And they took a few life lessons from these experiences, such as the talent for telling a joke or a funny tale without cutting anyone down. By example, he encouraged their growth as well-rounded human beings fully engaged in their professions while steeped in a love of the arts and a deep devotion to family.
Given his effervescent personality and sense of humor (some might call it wicked), Bill maintained many lifelong friendships and never stopped making new friends. Revered for his legendary storytelling, he was also a great listener—characterized by that unique ability to let people know that he was interested in them, their stories, and their lives.
Bill was preceded in death by his parents, his wife, and his sister, Julia Goodman Puryear. He is survived by his three children: Will Goodman (Tommie) of Nashville, Tennessee; Pat Ammons (Clifford) of Ridgeland, Mississippi; and Meg Richards (Dan) of Durham, North Carolina. He is also survived by six grandchildren, William Goodman (Nell Knox), Nancy Elizabeth Goodman Dement (Matt), Clifford Ammons, Jr. (Lauren), Mitchell Ammons Walters (Matthew), Clark Richards (Jordan), and Emily Richards; nine great-grandchildren; two nieces, Carol Puryear Ford and Linda Puryear Rainer; one nephew, Lamar Puryear; and several cousins.
A private family memorial service celebrating the life of Bill Goodman will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, January 12, at Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church. The service will be live streamed at https://livestream.com/gallowayumc/billgoodmanjr. Suggestions for memorial gifts include Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church (music ministry), 305 North Congress Street, Jackson, MS 39201; and Millsaps College, Windgate Visual Arts Center, 1701 N. State St., Jackson, MS 39210. The Goodman family expresses heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the staff at St. Catherine's Village for their professional efforts, dedication, and kindness.