The Womble Carlyle family mourns the loss of its most senior member, Bill Womble, Sr.
Mr. Womble passed away Friday, Sept. 16th at the age of 99. He would have been 100 next month.
William F. Womble, Sr.’s career at Womble Carlyle began in 1939, after he graduated from the Duke University School of Law.
The decision to join Womble Carlyle was driven by family ties. His father, B.S. Womble, began practicing law in Winston-Salem in 1907 and became one of the name partners of the firm now known as Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, LLP. Mr. Womble’s younger brother, Calder Womble, joined the firm in 1948 and also became a leader in the firm. The two brothers worked side-by-side for 60 years until Calder Womble’s death in March 2008.
Mr. Womble’s son, Bill Womble, Jr., joined the firm in 1971 following his service in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. Both Bill Womble and his wife, Erna Womble, became leaders in the firm.
During World War II, Mr. Womble temporarily left his legal practice to serve in the Army Air Corps. He saw action in North Africa, Corsica and Italy during the war. His brother, Calder, served as a Navy pilot during the war.
While Mr. Womble represented many clients during his lengthy career, he perhaps was best known for his long-time representation of the City of Winston-Salem. In 1940, he successfully represented the city in a tax dispute with Forsyth County that reached the North Carolina Supreme Court. He also served as the firm’s Managing Member for many years.
Mr. Womble’s leadership was not confined to the firm. He served as a Representative in the North Carolina General Assembly from 1953 to 1958, representing Forsyth County. During his term in office, he helped author a bill creating the first statewide Board of Higher Education and served as an inaugural member of that board. He defied public opinion at the time by speaking in defense of the NAACP when state lawmakers were trying to force the organization to open its books to public scrutiny, a standard other private organizations did not have to meet.
“I humbly beseech you to hark to the heritage that is ours as North Carolinians and Christians, and let reason overrule prejudice, and out of our sense of wisdom and justice to all people to vote against this bill,” he told his fellow lawmakers.
In 1958, Mr. Womble was one of 15 North Carolina attorneys selected to help reform the state’s court system. He became president of the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce in 1960. And in 1963, he chaired Winston-Salem’s “Experiment in Self-Reliance,” an effort to reduce poverty and illiteracy.
Mr. Womble believed that all attorneys had an obligation to their profession, so throughout his career, he put this belief into practice. He served as president of the Forsyth County Bar Association in 1962 and the North Carolina Bar Association in 1966-67. In 1986-88 he chaired the highly successful Founders Campaign that established a permanent endowment for the North Carolina Bar Foundation. Even in the mid-1990s, he remained active as the chairman of the NCBA’s Senior Lawyers Division. In 2001, he became the first recipient of the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism Award, presented by North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr.
For his many contributions to the profession, Womble Carlyle has named its internal award for service to the bar the William F. Womble Award.
The grandson of a Methodist minister, faith was a guiding principle for Mr. Womble. He was a lifelong member of Centenary United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem, as well as other Methodist organizations.
Long after his official retirement from legal practice, Mr. Womble remained a vital and active member of the firm. He still kept regular office hours in the firm’s Winston-Salem office and frequently was sought after for his advice on matters important to the firm. He also was considered the “institutional memory” of the firm, as no one knew the history of Womble Carlyle better than Mr. Womble.
Mr. Womble and his first wife, Jane, were married more than 68 years until her death in 2010. He married his long-time friend, Allan Hollan, in 2012. Mr. Womble is survived by his loving wife, Allan, his four children, 15 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his sister, Edith Womble Chatham, of Pinehurst, N.C., as well as the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of his wife, Allan.