Grand County loses a legend: Judge Wayne Williams, 1935-2014
For the Sky-Hi News
“It was an honor and privilege to know him, and he will be sorely missed. He left a legacy of serving his country and the people of this county with dignity and respect. I only hope I can follow his example.”
Judge Mary Hoak
14th Judicial District
There are two meanings of the word luminary: a person who inspires or influences others, especially one prominent in a particular sphere; and a body of light. Judge Cecil “Wayne” Williams, who passed away on May 18 after a 14-year battle with cancer, personified both definitions.
Williams retired from the Air Force in 1981 after being stationed in Hawaii, Germany and Washington, DC. He and his wife, Marty, moved to the Fraser Valley, where he set up a law practice in 1984 that shared office space and a receptionist with accountant Tim Day. “They loved to travel, but he relished Fraser Valley to the very end. He considered Fraser his home,” Day remembered. “He loved this small community and he was really plugged into it — he knew everybody and everything that was going on.”
“He taught me to do things the right way,” said District Court Judge Mary C. Hoak, who first met Judge Williams as an attorney in his court in 1994. “He scared the living daylights out of me until I realized what a warm, kind man he was under that gruff exterior.”
Hoak was eventually sworn in by her mentor (at her request) for her Grand County Court Judge position in 2003, and he swore her in again as Colorado’s 14th Judicial District Court Judge in 2007.
“He taught me to really listen to people; to be fair; and to conduct proceedings with decorum. He was a retired military officer, and he was known for sending people home who showed up to court in shorts. Sometimes society is too casual, but not in the courtroom. He believed you have to dress and behave appropriately. Every time we ask people to take their hats off in the courtroom, I think of him.”
Williams retired on December 31, 2002, and served as a senior judge until his death, filling in for judges around the state. Hoak inherited his squeaky, old chair, which she named “Wayne’s Chair.”
“I was so honored to sit in it that I took it with me when I moved to the District bench.”
When the plastic underneath the chair started to crack and fall apart, Hoak went to great lengths to get it fixed.
Humor in the Court
Although judges rarely walk into any room unnoticed, Williams had a knack for putting others at ease with his sense of humor. “I never sensed a difference between Wayne the attorney, the judge or the golf partner. He was consistently the same guy. He moved easily from one role to another,” said Day. “He had no attitude or arrogance. Nobody was beneath him.”
Williams often injected humor into the courtroom, but always in an appropriate manner. Donald Olson recalled when his dog had been nabbed by the dogcatcher three times in one month, and he was summoned to appear in court. The judge asked him what he had to say about the matter, and he replied, “I have a new girlfriend, and she let him out, but I’ve fixed the problem.” Williams asked how that was going to fix the problem, and Olson answered, “I tied them both up, Your Honor.” The judge paused, then pounded his gavel twice and declared that it was the funniest thing he had ever heard, and dismissed all fines.
Hoak was representing a client in a traffic case back in the 1990s, and on the day of sentencing, she had to disclose to Judge Williams in open court that her client had run over his golf ball with a golf cart the prior week — on purpose, because he felt the Judge was playing too close behind his group.
“Golf has a lot of etiquette in it. You just don’t do that! Also, he really ran it over, i.e., the ball was partially buried in the ground. When my client apologized (in court) for running over his ball, the judge lit up with a Cheshire Cat grin and said, ‘I thought I recognized your client, Miss Hoak.’ After a lengthy pause, which the judge relished, but my client did not, he kindly encouraged my client to not commit any more traffic violations and to never run over someone’s golf ball again.”
Williams’ greatest loves were his wife, family and dogs, but sports took a close second. “He was the biggest sports fan I have ever known!” recalled fellow judge, Dick Doucette, who retired and became a senior judge the same day as Williams. “He attended the first-ever game of the Rockies, and has had season tickets ever since. For a number of years he and Marty would go to the Rockies Spring training camp in Arizona.” (They stayed in pet-friendly hotels so they could bring the dogs).
“Wayne was an encyclopedia of sports trivia. He could remember who played in the 1962 World Series or how many bases Pete Rose stole in his career. His knowledge was just amazing. He also was a collector of memorabilia. He had a number of valuable autographed baseballs and lots of baseball cards.”
Several times during the baseball season, Wayne and Marty Williams would “hold court” at Fontenot’s, where he insisted on meeting with friends to divide Rockies tickets. “We could’ve accomplished this through text messages or phone calls, but Wayne liked to get everyone together the way parents make kids come to the dinner table,” said Day. “He had kind of an old-school idea of how to do things. He really paid attention to people, and took time out to slow down and live well.”
Driven by Golf
Raised by his grandmother who managed a country club, Judge Williams became a talented self-taught golfer. He played golf at St. Andrews in Scotland where golf was born, and traveled to Augusta, Ga., several times to see the U.S. Open.
“He was a regular at the Pole Creek Golf Club since it opened in 1984,” said Mary Moynihan, Clubhouse Manager. “He would walk all 18 holes … even in his last few years, he would try to walk nine holes. He was an excellent golfer who was very generous in donations to our kid programs and community causes.”
“I worked at Pole Creek — one of the places he loved to be,” said Kathy Knittle. “He would always come in for one beer after his round to chat with all the boys.”
Marty and Wayne also loved to cross-country ski, and got out frequently on the trails around Devil’s Thumb near their home in Tabernash. “I would see them skiing all the time. They were an inseparable pair,” Diana Lyn Rau recollected. “If you talked to one of them, it was always in reference to something they had done. I have a great appreciation for that kind of love.
“He was a very intelligent person who asked a lot of questions,” Rau continued. “He had strong opinions about the way things should be, but he was also very open to other perspectives.”
Great Loss to the Community
“I would characterize his style as firm yet balanced,” said former Sky-Hi News editor and publisher Patrick Brower.
Williams married Brower and his wife, Lydia, on their second wedding, which he performed at the Brower home with their 2 week-old son, Sebastian. Marty Williams, who was a reporter at the paper, was the witness.
“Wayne Williams was the consummate ‘Officer and a Gentleman,’” said Granby attorney Georgia Noriyuki. “Having appeared as a lawyer in Judge Williams’ courtroom on a number of occasions, I always knew beforehand that my client would be fairly treated by him, and I was never disappointed. Win or lose, I respected him and his decisions. He was a devoted family man, a loyal Rockies fan, and a superlative addition to the list of great people who have lived and served in Grand County.”
“Wayne had everything you’d want in a friend,” said Day. “He was loyal, trustworthy and fun. He had a big heart, and he carried that empathy into a very difficult profession. He was a man of great moral character. He would stand up and do the hard things when he needed to. There should be a pamphlet about him at all the historical museums.”
“It was an honor and privilege to know him, and he will be sorely missed. He left a legacy of serving his country and the people of this county with dignity and respect. I only hope I can follow his example,” said Hoak.
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