Alston & Bird honors the memory of L. Neil Williams, our former managing partner from 1984 to 1996. An extraordinary lawyer and highly respected firm leader, Neil is also remembered as a trusted corporate director and tireless advocate for the arts and education.
L. Neil Williams was born on March 22, 1936, in Charlotte, North Carolina. He attended Charlotte public schools where he met his wife Sue. He entered Duke University where he finished his undergraduate work as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, with distinction, in history in 1958. He received his J.D. degree from Duke Law School in 1961. In 1961, Neil and Sue moved to Atlanta where Neil began his distinguished legal career with the firm of Alston, Sibley, Miller, Spann & Shackelford that later became Alston, Miller & Gaines, and is now Alston & Bird LLP.
From his arrival in Atlanta in 1961, until his death on Sunday evening, August 26th, Neil Williams led a life of service and leadership unsurpassed by anyone of his generation in Atlanta that had far-ranging regional and national impact.
In the legal profession, he rose rapidly in a practice that focused on business law, particularly corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions. For 38 years in the private practice at Alston & Bird, he was an acknowledged leader in the profession, a trusted confidante to numerous clients and the law firm leader who built Alston & Bird from an important Atlanta law firm into a regional and then national preeminence. Upon his retirement from Alston & Bird, Neil became the first general counsel at what is now known as Invesco, one of the world’s largest independent global investment management firms with activities in over 25 countries and over $650 billion in assets under management and an S&P 500 company. For many years he served as a director of Attorneys Liability Assurance Society, a Bermuda-based insurer of a substantial number of the largest U.S. law firms.
Neil served as a corporate director at a number of companies. At the time of his death, he served three Atlanta-based companies: Printpack, Inc., Acuity Brands, Inc. (NYSE AYI), and Invesco Mortgage Capital, Inc. (NYSE IVR). He chaired the Governance Committee of Acuity Brands and was lead director of that board. He is the non-executive chairman of the Board of Invesco Mortgage Capital.
Neil’s professional and leadership roles are but the beginning of his community contributions. Upon his arrival in Atlanta in 1961, he participated fully in the Atlanta community with particular interest in the arts. He and Sue joined the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus under the direction of its renowned leader Robert Shaw in 1967. He was a long-time director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, including serving as chairman of that board from 1987-1990. From 2002-2008, he served as chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Woodruff Arts Center. (The Woodruff Arts Center has four active divisions: The High Museum of Art, The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, The Alliance Theater, and Young Audiences.) His tenure as chairman of the Woodruff Arts Center was the longest in the history of the center. In 2006, the Atlanta Chapter of the American Jewish Committee presented him the Learned Hand Award related to his work as a lawyer and contributions to the broader community. In 2008, the Woodruff Arts Center, on the occasion of its 40th anniversary, awarded him its first Lifetime Achievement Award. His arts leadership was one of national dimension. During the 1990s, he was an active member of the Board of Directors of The American Symphony Orchestra League and served as its chair for five years. He also served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Brevard Music Center where, as a young student, he first developed his appreciation for great music.
Neil’s service to his alma mater, Duke University, was legendary. During the 1970s, he was chair of the alumni associations of Duke Law School and, later, of Duke University. For 13 years, through 1993, he was a member of Duke’s Board of Trustees and chaired that Board from 1983 – 1988. He was instrumental in the formation of Duke Management Company, the university’s investment management arm, and served as a director from its inception through 1997. Duke University awarded him its distinguished Alumni Award in 1990. In 1993, Duke Law School awarded him the Charles Rhyne Award for leadership in the legal profession.
His charitable leadership has been responsible for providing hundreds of millions of dollars to many important causes. He served as a trustee of The Duke Endowment (Charlotte) since 1997 and at the time of his death was Chair of that Foundation. He also chaired the Board of Trustees of The Vasser Woolley Foundation (Atlanta) and The Halle Foundation (Atlanta). He also served as a trustee and a member of the investment committee of The Presbyterian Church Foundation.
He was a mentor to countless young lawyers, young executives who sought his advice and counsel, as well as corporate CEOs and non-profit leaders.
Neil is survived by Sue, his wife of 54 years, a son Fred and his wife Cathy, a daughter Susan, and two grandchildren, Fred and Cathy’s daughter Taylor, and Susan’s son Alex Jacobson.