May 27, 1930 ~ June 12, 2020
William Steele Sessions, 90, of San Antonio,Texas, died peacefully on June 12, 2020 surrounded by family. He was born May 27, 1930, Fort Smith, Arkansas, to Rev. Will A. and Edith Steele Sessions, who were active in Disciples of Christ ministry during Sessions’ formative years. William S. Sessions, an American lawyer who served as a United States District Judge and Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, found it a “…privilege and honor to serve under five American presidents.”
As the son of a U.S. Army Chaplain stationed in the Pacific arena during WWII, Sessions proved early in life his ability for resilience and perseverance. Stricken with polio as a teenager, he overcame the debilitating effects of the disease to regain use of his right arm and eventually excelled in track and field and swimming at Northeast High School in Kansas City, Missouri. His lifelong love and identification with outdoor adventuring and strong moral code was reinforced by his experiences as a Boy Scout. He achieved the rank of Eagle Scout and delighted in the rugged grandeur of Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. He frequently camped and canoed, and made two treks to the 17,600-foot base camp of Mount Everest in the 1980’s.
Mr. Sessions enrolled in the University of Kansas in 1948 and became a member of Sigma Chi national fraternity. With the escalation of the Korean War in 1951, he enlisted in the United States Air Force, completing basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. During this period, he contracted a virulent case of strep throat and was sent to Francis E. Warren Air Force Base as part of medical study of the effectiveness of penicillin. Ultimately, he was sent to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida for experimental recuperation. Following a full recovery, Sessions completed training, received his wings, commission, and assignment at James Connelly AFB in Waco, Texas. In October 1952, Sessions married his high school friend Alice June Lewis. Sessions continued active duty service as a radar intercept officer until October 1955, achieving the rank of Captain. In his career, he flew more than 1,000 hours in B-25 aircraft.
Balancing military service and a growing family, Mr. Sessions renewed his academic studies, enrolling in night classes at Baylor University. In 1956, he was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. Sessions would later give credit to former Dean of Baylor Law School and beloved tenth president of Baylor University, Abner V. McCall, for sensing Sessions’ talent for leadership and logic and encouraging his application to Baylor Law School. It was yet another defining moment in Sessions’ life.
Sessions received his LL.B. degree from Baylor Law School in 1958 and began his legal career as a sole practitioner. Within three years, Sessions became a named partner in the Waco, Texas law firm of Haley, Fulbright, Winniford, Sessions and Bice, known for its trial expertise. Fellow lawyers elected him as president of the local bar association, and he served as director in the Junior Bar of Texas, which later became the Texas Young Lawyer’s Association.
In the turbulent 1960’s, Bill Sessions became a lay leader and served as a Sunday School teacher for married adults and teens at Trinity Methodist Church in Waco. He also joined the Jaycees and served in leadership positions. He and his wife were also avid supporters of the Waco YMCA, participating in weekly events with family and friends. Spurred by recognition of the need for development of a two-party election system in Texas, Sessions began a period of political participation and service in the Republican Party of Texas. He actively supported the successful campaigns of Houstonian George H.W. Bush, Dallasite Jim Collins, and newcomer Wichita Falls professor John G. Tower for national office. In 1969, he was elected to the non-partisan Waco city council.
Mr. Sessions accepted appointment to key civil service positions spanning the decades of the 1970’s and 1980’s that took him initially to Washington, D.C. as chief of the Government Operations Section, Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, then to San Antonio, Texas as the newly appointed United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas. In December 1974, President Gerald R. Ford nominated Sessions as a United States District Judge for the Western District of Texas and the Sessions family moved to El Paso, Texas following his confirmation. He presided over one of the heaviest criminal and civil dockets in the nation during his tenure on the bench. Following an event that was termed by President Jimmy Carter as “the crime of the century,” -- the assassination of United States District Judge John H. Wood – Judge Sessions returned to San Antonio and became the Chief Judge of the United States Western District of Texas in 1980. Over the ensuing 3 years, he presided over the trials of Jimmy Chagra, Joe Chagra, Elizabeth Chagra and Charles Harrelson, all of whom were implicated in the assassination of Judge John Wood and convicted.
In the fall of 1987, Judge Sessions was selected by President Ronald Reagan to become the Director of the FBI and resigned his position of U.S. District Judge. Sworn into office on November 2, 1987, Sessions’ arrival and tenure as FBI Director were marked by commendation and conflict. During his leadership at the Bureau, Director Sessions took on numerous challenges that are widely accepted and documented as notable accomplishments for the Bureau’s transition to a more diverse, effective, and technologically sophisticated law enforcement agency. Specifically, Director Sessions lead the Bureau’s expanding and demanding role in combating international terrorism, developing DNA as a forensic tool, and creating digital fingerprint identification technologies. These developments reinforced and strengthened the Bureau’s premier role in many areas of law enforcement, both domestically and globally.
Sessions also energetically addressed the importance of diversity and opportunities for women and minorities within the Bureau, laying the groundwork for an environment where merit and fairness reinforced the Bureau’s role in ensuring justice for all.
Sessions departure as Director of the FBI in July of 1993 led to his new life as a private citizen, continuing to serve others in his lifelong dedication to the rule of law and justice. He served the boards of a diverse group of public and private entities and civic endeavors, including leadership of American Bar Association committees, the dramatic arts at Washington D.C.’s Arena Stage, the Constitution Project, and service to the State of Texas in the areas of security and cyberterrorism. He re-entered the practice of law as a mediator and National Patent Board arbitrator first with his son in San Antonio, Texas and later with the international law firm of Holland & Knight in Washington, D.C. He maintained an active and productive dispute resolution practice and contributed to national pro bono projects until his retirement on January 1, 2017.
William S. Sessions was married to Alice Lewis Sessions for 66 years. He was preceded in death by son Jonathan Avent Sessions in 1964 and wife Alice in 2019. He is survived by sons Lewis Sessions (Renee) of Dallas, Texas; Pete Sessions (Karen) of Waco, Texas; Mark Sessions (Lorian) of San Antonio, Texas; daughter Sara Sessions Naughton (James) of Weston, Connecticut; nine grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
The family is grateful for the assistance of care providers who provided loving companionship and assistance to Judge Sessions in the latter years of his life.
A memorial service is scheduled for Thursday, June 25, 2020 at 3:00 p.m. in the main sanctuary of Alamo Heights United Methodist Church, San Antonio, Texas. Those unable to attend the formal memorial service may pay their respects in memorial visitation at the main sanctuary of Alamo Heights United Methodist Church between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 24, 2020 or by viewing the memorial service on-line at AHUMC.ORG
Mr. Sessions was an ardent advocate of the rule of law and justice for all. Those wishing to honor him by means other than flowers, may send a gift to Baylor University Baylor Law School c/o Dean Brad Toben, One Bear Place #97288, Waco, TX 76798-7288 or The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), 1100 G. Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington DC 20005.
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