Grace Williams

"Oldies but Goodies" by Joni Stewart

Once referred to as "a little old lady in tennis shoes' by Judge Campbell, former District Attorney Grace Williams continues to quietly and competenly set the pace for legal and senior advocay in Grant Count. As a senior member of the bar [active], Williams is looked upon by the local legal community with pride. "She's an exceptional lady," states attorney Dan Cronin. "A true pioneer in the sense of a woman who is also a lawyer."

Her unique path began by following in her father's footsteps. She attended law school as one of three women students; one year later, she was the only remaining woman in that graduating class. She passed the bar in 1942, one year prior to moving to Canyon City, where she resides today.

Looking around her home filled with antiques and legal briefs, Williams recounts how her mother and father shaped her environment both figuratively and literally. "Following my mother's retirement, she immersed herself in the world of antiques", Williams remembers. "For self-preservation, my father too became an expert." The two were responsible for setting up the corporation of antique dealers in Portland, and had planned to open once he could retire from his law practice.

That dream did not materialize but their legacy has become consolidated into William's living environment.

Grace originally moved here in 1943 to help Roy Kilpartick with his practice while her husband David Rementeria [himself a lawyer] went to war. The news of her husband's death in 1944 coincided with Kilpatrick announcing to Grace "Help, I've been drafted!"

She was to carry on the practice alone until 1946. Kilpatrick returned that year, and Grace continued as a sole practitioner. In 1947, she married Larry Williams and began raising boys and bulls on the A Bar L ranch 15 miles up Canyon Creek.

She was truly in the vanguard of working mothers, though. With the birth of son Bill, she maintained her law practice in John Day; baby can come to the office when you are your own boss. With the arrival of son King, and then John, she moved her headquarters to the ranch and managed her many roles from there.

Ten years after her first child was born, and with the youngest in school, Grace was tapped to run for County DA. "This time I was drafted," states Williams. The local businessmen and ranchers' efforts were rewarded as she won the election by 100 votes, and was sworn into office in January of 1959. For 20 years, she enjoyed the real life dramas that were played out before her. And what of the grizzlier side of life that comes with the prosecutor's territory? "Oh, it was offset by so many entertaining and interesting situations." She remembers one funny instance in the Benson Hotel when somebody reported having a dirty shirt stolen. The guy was caught and put in jail. The wife, with requisite tears before and after, saw her husband receive 30 days in jail. Sometimes ridiculous is sublime.

She recalls the parade of offenders as a mixed bag; some cattle rustlers, juvenile delinquency, threats and thievery. But she saw early on the impending onslaught of drugs. "It's number one now as far as frequency of prosecution," says Williams. It does appear endless; the seizures, the convictions ad infinitum.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, husband Larry began a successful lobbying campaign for cattlemen and became the president of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association in 1964 and 1965. He met with an untimely death in 1969, however, and so the ranch not only helped to instill in her children the qualities of hard work and responsibility, it also helped to provide all three children with college educations.

Before the end of her term as DA in 1979, Williams pushed for full time compensation for Grant County's DA and Deputy DA's as part of the Governor's budget. She was successful, and as Mr. Glass or Mr. Holpuch would assuredly concur, it is more than a full time job, and deserves more than partial pay.

In 1980, after being Sr. Intern for Senator Packwood, Grace became involved with senior advocacy, locally and in the district and in 1984 was appointed to the Governor's Commission on Senior Services. She remains on that board and will be attending the White House Conference on Aging as Wes Cooley's appointed delegate on the first of May.

One definition of a leader is one who shows the way by going before. Williams personifies that definition in many fields. I hope the next generation of working women can fill her sneakers.

1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved

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