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Attorney ‘was for people being treated fairly’

South Boston News
Greer / September 07, 2017

J. Willard “Bill” Greer, a longtime South Boston lawyer and former Halifax County Commonwealth’s Attorney, died Sunday at his South Boston home. He was 92.

A native of Virginia and graduate of C.H. Friend High School and Washington & Lee Law School, Greer opened his South Boston law office in 1949 and continued to practice until 2015, when failing health kept him from pursuing his lifelong love of the law. “He was a very caring person,” said Corlis Nichols, his office assistant for 46 years. “He was for people being treated fairly. It’s just the type of person he was.”

Greer was Commonwealth’s Attorney from 1963 to 1969, stepping away from the job in the middle of his second term because it was hard to support his family on his salary at the time, said his daughter, Betty Greer Caldwell. From an early age, she said was captivated by her father’s legal work: “I thought he was Atticus Finch in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.”

Greer’s even-handedness as Commonwealth’s Attorney was one of the factors that inspired Circuit Judge Joel Cunningham to go into the law field, as told by Cunningham when he announced his retirement in early 2016. Years earlier, as a college student, Cunningham returned home to South Boston and stepped inside a Riverdale establishment to order food, only for the proprietor to pull a gun on him and point the weapon in his face. “A courageous young prosecutor” — Greer — prosecuted the man and put him behind bars for the act, recalled the judge. “I think that was the first time my eyes were opened to the idea of equal justice under the law,” said Cunningham in a January 2016 interview.

In his later years, Greer concentrated his legal efforts on representing clients seeking Social Security disability benefits. He practiced more or less continuously from 1949 until a couple of years ago. Nichols went to work for him in 1969.

He served as a substitute judge in General District Court, was a founder of the Parsons-Bruce Art Association, and was a member of the American Legion Post 8. He served in the Army during World War II, stationed in Europe in a non-combat role.

He is preceded in death by his wife Katherine Hundley “Kathy” Greer, his parents Edith Waterman Marilla and Thomas Whittaker Greer I, his brother Thomas Whittaker Greer II, his nephew Thomas Whittaker Greer III, and his granddaughter Ruth Walker Patnoad.

He is survived by his four children: Katherine, James Willard II, John, and Elizabeth and her husband David, his nine grandchildren, his four great-grandchildren, his younger brother Yale and his wife Alex, and his nieces, nephews, great-nieces and nephews, and great-great nieces and nephews. He is also survived by long-time professional colleague, Corlis Nichols and beloved caretaker and nurse Joyce Thaxton and her wonderful team of caregivers.

Services for Mr. Greer are pending.

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