Oklahoma Bar Journal

From the Executive Director | My Last Article

By John Morris Williams

Dec. 31 will be my last day as executive director. I have served in this role for 19 years and eight months. During that time, I attended 236 consecutive Board of Governors meetings; served 20 OBA presidents; and the assignment list goes on with Annual Meetings, swearing-in ceremonies, budget presentations, etc. It never got old or tiring. For many years, I have had the extraordinary experience of doing something I loved with people I loved.   

As of Jan. 1, 2023, I will assume the role of executive director emeritus and assist as I can in helping our association transition to a new era. Before I leave, I want to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who allowed me the opportunity to serve our profession. The names are too numerous to list here; however, it all began with then-President Melissa DeLacerda and a Board of Governors including Past President Gary Clark and eventually seven other OBA presidents. They were all great friends, mentors and leaders. Many thanks to them and all the others who served in volunteer leadership positions over these years. I am truly blessed to have worked for people who sell time for a living; and so many of them gave freely of their time to help me and the OBA. I am forever indebted to them. As much as I talk, I am sure I would have run up a bill in the millions if their timesheets were ever turned in. 

This job allowed me the opportunity to work closely with the courts. Having colleagues around the country with whom I have frequent contact, I can tell you there are no bar executives who have had more goodwill and friendship extended to them by their highest courts than me. Especially, I am grateful to all the justices of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, under whose supervision I was blessed to work. If one ever wonders why I have fought so hard to defend the Judicial Nominating Commission, the answer is simple. That process has produced wonderful friends and mentors for me. Oh, and it also leads to the appointment of great independent judges.  

From the moment I heard, “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passing,” in To Kill a Mockingbird, I knew I had to be a lawyer. Raised in the poverty of rural Oklahoma, I dreamed of being the person who, in some small way, had the courage and conviction to right some wrongs and to ensure the least among us had a chance at justice. During my time in practice and my previous organizational management positions, I felt those moments. I’m not sure I totally fulfilled that dream, but I have had the honor to work for countless lawyers who brought the idea of Atticus Finch to life every day. You are my heroes. Few people in life get to work for their heroes. How lucky was I?  

During my time at the OBA, I have worked with some legends. I always knew I worked as much for the staff as anyone. An early mentor taught me that you are fired by the people under you in the flow chart, the people at the top just acquiesce to it. My high school principal once told me, “Be careful how you treat people, you never know who may be your boss someday.” I had no idea that someday I would have nine Supreme Court justices, a board of 17 governors, 19,000 lawyers and 40-plus staff members all as my bosses at the same time. But for these early mentors, I probably would have made the fatal error of thinking I was in charge. Thank you to each of you for giving me the honor of working for you.  

Every day, I have felt that honor. You are my coworkers, classmates, friends and people whom I have known for a long time. You know my shortcomings and my faults, and you entrusted me with a high honor. You allowed a mediocre guy from Stonewall to toil among giants. For that, I am eternally grateful. 

You have been most kind and a blessing to work for. I ask that you bestow those same kindnesses and blessings on our next executive director. 

Happiest of holidays to you and all who are dear to you. 

To contact Executive Director Williams, email him at johnw@okbar.org.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal – OBJ 93 Vol 10 (December 2022)