Amherst Magazine

William L. Millard ’53

William L. Millard ’53 died May 20, 2010.
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WILLIAM L. MILLARD '53

Bill Millard ’53 died suddenly on May 20, 2010 at his home in Gahanna, Ohio. The cause was “natural,” presumed a stroke in the absence of an autopsy. After services and memorials in Columbus, he was buried next to his wife Ann in Louisville, Kentucky. Bill is survived by his sisters Nancy Henry and Jean Grenier; his four children (Bill, Susan, John, and Thomas), seven grandchildren (Lisa, Stephen Edwin and Sarah Dutton; Katie and Olivia Millard; Ben and Harold Millard) and by classmates and colleagues too numerous to name.

Friends from all phases of his life -- childhood in Shaker Heights through Amherst, the University of Virginia School of Law, the Ohio legal community, the jazz world, and  more -- appeared this last May to pay their respects. Friends unable to attend expressed their strong and much-appreciated sympathies as well. ”Bill was truly a unique and super guy,” reflects Herb Bartholomew ’53. “To me he was a loyal friend who gave good support and prudent counsel. I held him in high esteem and affection. He enhanced my life and many others. I miss him -- a lot." Ken Clark ’53 adds: “Bill was passionate about his beliefs and always a force to be reckoned with. I often disagreed with him, but we became close friends and I surely miss him.” Jim Davis ‘53: “I went through life with Bill from first grade through Amherst and some basic training in the Army. He was one of my dearest and oldest friends, and I miss him greatly. We shared our views constantly, especially about politics.”

At Amherst Bill was a history major, a DKE, and a disk jockey on campus station WAMF (known for his tagline “Willie’s Wax Works…with stacks of wax for Jills and Jacks... come on in and dig the din”). He served in the U.S. Army, stationed at Fort Knox, where he commandeered both a tank and a typewriter. There he met, wooed, and eventually married a Louisville belle and English teacher’s daughter named Ann Baird, with whom he built and enjoyed the kind of lifelong partnership that has become all too rare. Taking his law degree at Virginia and joining the Columbus firm of Lane, Huggard, and Alton (later Lane, Alton, and Horst), he became a prominent litigator, practicing for 30 years and earning fellowship in the American College of Trial Lawyers. He was also a member of the American Bar Association. Retiring from firm partnership, he completed two terms as a judge in the Court of Common Pleas for Franklin County.

His civic activities included the presidency of the Bexley, Ohio, public library board and membership in the Athletic Club of Columbus, Whitehall-Bexley Rotary, the Columbus Country Club, the Columbus Club, the Federalist Society, and a succession of Catholic churches, including St. Catharine’s of Bexley (where he coached a series of little-league baseball teams known unofficially as the “Drexel Avenue Dragons”) and later St. Matthew’s of Gahanna. An enthusiastic patron of Vaughn Wiester’s Famous Jazz Orchestra and the Jazz Arts Group of Columbus, Bill was an informal ambassador for true jazz, inculcating an appreciation for Ellington, Basie, Art Tatum, Stan Kenton, Gerry Mulligan, Horace Silver, and Miles Davis (the early Miles, at least) among members of all generations. He played trumpet energetically and piano sparklingly. He also shared with all of his family and many of his friends the peculiarly incurable affliction known as Ohio sports fandom, unfailingly supporting the Indians, Browns, and Buckeyes.

As a dedicated admirer of the English language, Bill sought in all contexts to communicate with precision, nuance, rigor, and wit, and to foster comparable skills in others. He had the rare capacity to converse across many borders of belief, often passionately -- the things he believed in, he believed with fervor, and his deep knowledge of history made him a formidable debater -- but always with great respect for his interlocutors and fairness toward any argument presented on the merits. Anyone receiving one of his fabled freeform letters, single-spaced on an IBM Selectric and occasionally three or four double-sided pages long, would immediately recognize an inimitable voice -- not publicly celebrated like Kerouac’s “spontaneous bop prosody,” but perhaps not drastically different in bringing the rhythms, digressions, and surprises of jazz to written language. On the bench, he experimented with creative sentencing approaches for low-level offenses, such as giving a young defendant the option of reading a serious book and demonstrating comprehension of it, not entering the depressing cycles of the penal system but potentially discovering alternatives to them. When his eldest son went to Amherst (not from paternal steering, but from a perception that my Dad’s lasting loyalty to the place was grounded in qualities likely to nourish a comparable loyalty on my part), his suggestion that I look up another of his classmates on the faculty, Prof. Bill Pritchard ‘53, led to a lasting and enlightening influence on my own work. The phrase “si monumentum requiris, circumspice” appears nearly every time an accomplished person dies; in this context, it may be significant that all four of us in the next generation of Millards have turned out as writers, editors, and/or teachers of English.

A story from Dad’s gavel-wielding days reached me a few years ago; I can’t determine whether it’s apocryphal, but it’s so consistent with what we all knew of him that I presume it has at least some degree of truth. Dad’s duties as a judge alternated between civil and criminal dockets, and he strongly preferred the former; he did not relish hearing the sordid things that came to light during certain criminal trials. During one such proceeding, a child had to testify about a defendant’s uncivilized conduct toward her; the girl was old enough to take the witness stand, but barely. Her testimony was the key to getting a dangerous person off the streets; however, already shaken by the crime itself, she found the courtroom atmosphere intimidating and became unable to speak. After some difficult minutes, according to persons who were present, Dad realized that the outward symbols of the majesty and gravity of the law were working at cross-purposes with its spirit. He came down from the bench, removed his judicial robe, and sat down in civilian clothes cross-legged on the floor, inviting her to sit wherever she pleased as well, so that he would be at her eye level. Speaking to her as an equal, as gently as he would to one of his own grandkids at a birthday party, he managed to put her at ease. She was able to testify, and a successful prosecution made Columbus, in one particular but nontrivial respect, a safer and better place.

That was Dad: a lover of and believer in the law, convinced that in its imperfect ways it can approximate fairness and accomplish essential things, but also aware that law is ultimately about people and their capacity to connect. He was a conservative in the most honorable sense of that troubled term: he recognized that certain things were worth conserving. He left us with his faculties intact and his energy hardly diminished by age, still traveling, working out, playing golf, pointing out moments of astonishment in trumpet solos, remaining avidly engaged with the world. In many respects, the quality of that engagement means he hasn’t entirely left us at all.

                                                --William B. Millard ‘80

                                                with Herbert Bartholomew ’53, Ken Clark ’53, and Jim Davis ‘53

 

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