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Leading Atlanta attorney and civic leader Neil Williams passes away

By Maria Saporta

Update: The memorial service for L. Neil Williams Jr. will be held on Thursday, Aug. 30 at Trinity Presbyterian Church located at 3003 Howell Mill Road at 11 a.m. The service will be followed by a Williams family reception at the church.

L. Neil Williams Jr., a leading Atlanta attorney and civic leader, passed away Sunday evening from a massive heart attack.

Williams, 76, was in Winston-Salem, N.C. attending a Duke University function, according to bulletin that was sent out Monday morning by Trinity Presbyterian Church.

Duke University was only one of several institutions that Williams supported throughout his career.

Williams joined the firm of what is now Alston & Bird on June 1, 1961. He became a partner of the firm in 1965, and he served as the firm’s managing partner from 1984 to 1996.

“Neil was a civic leader like few other people in the history of Atlanta,” said Ben Johnson, who succeeded Williams as Alston & Bird’s managing partner. “He was a great leader of the law firm. He was a great leader in Atlanta. He never stopped. He was always engaged.”

Neil Williams

In addition to his role at Aston & Bird, Williams chaired Leadership Atlanta, the Woodruff Arts Center board, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra board and national president of the League of American Orchestras. He also chaired the board of the Vasser Woolley Foundation and was a trustee of the Halle Foundation and a trustee of Trinity Presbyterian Church.

Williams served as chairman of Duke University’s board of trustees from 1983 to 1988. as well as president of both the Duke National Alumni Association and the Duke Law Alumni Association. In January, 2011, Williams was elected chair of the Duke Endowment board. Johnson said that Williams was hosting a dinner for the board Sunday night when he had the heart attack.

“Neil’s passing is one of the biggest shocks of my life,” Johnson said. “Neil was one of the giants in my life. I never would have become managing partner had it not been for the support of Neil.”

In fact, Johnson often followed Williams in key civic positions, such as chairing Leadership Atlanta and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Johnson said he was so surprised to hear that Williams had passed away because he had spent three hours with him and his wife, Sue, on Saturday afternoon.

“Neil and Sue never looked more vigorous or engaged,” Johnson said.

Williams grew up in Charlotte, N.C., and attended Charlotte public schools. He earned his undergraduate degree from Duke University and a law degree from Duke School of Law.

After retiring as Alston & Bird’s managing partner, Williams became general counsel of what is now Invesco. He served on the boards of Printpack Inc., Acuity Brands Inc. and Invesco Mortgage Capital Inc.

Plans for the memorial service have not yet been finalized. We will give you an update on those plans as soon as we hear.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. Jim Durrett August 27, 2012 12:51 pm

    I am so saddened by this news.  What a tremendous loss for Atlanta.Report

  2. Oscar Persons August 28, 2012 10:10 am

    Neil Williams was perhaps the greatest leader I have met.  Focused, attentive, caring, visionary and approachable.  It was a great privilige for me to have practiced law with him, sung with him, enjoyed good times with him and Sue and learned from him.  I really don’t know of a better role model than Neil. Report

  3. scfranklin August 28, 2012 4:38 pm

    I join others in thanking Neil’s family for sharing him with us.  His contributions are many but I will remmeber him for his willingness to listen, to tackle  the troubles and problems of the day and to seek fair and just resolutions.Report


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