Born April 6, 1923, the son of a police officer and farm wife, Richard Leroy Williams lied about his age to enlist in the Army at 17. As a signalman, Mr. Williams was at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, when it was attacked by Japan, plunging the U.S. into World War II.
Mr. Williams graduated in 1951 from the University of Virginia, which he attended on the G.I. Bill. He earned his degree in law without completing an undergraduate degree.
A Virginia circuit court judge from 1972 to 1976, Mr. Williams was atrial lawyer whose work for such blue-ribbon clients as Westinghouse, General Electric and Aetna was the foundation of the litigation practice of what is now known as McGuireWoods, a legal powerhouse of which he was a founding partner.
Nominated in April 1979 by President Jimmy Carter and approved by the U.S. Senate in September 1980, Mr. Williams heard the 1986 dispute between DuPont and Dutch competitor Akzo N.V. over Kevlar, the man-made fiber used in bulletproof vests. Mr. Williams ruled for DuPont, preserving its lucrative rights to the product.
Two years later — in a case that was part of a failed bid by investor Burt Sugarman to take over Media General Inc., parent of Richmond Times - Dispatch - Mr. Williams threw out a challenge to the two-tier stock structure of the publicly traded company that ensures its control by the family of J. Stewart Bryan, III, chairman of the board.
In 2002, Mr. Williams found prosecutorial misconduct in the dramatic murder trial in Powhatan County of Beverly Monroe in the alleged 1992 shooting death of her lover, Roger de la Burde, a millionaire land speculator and art collector who claimed to be a French count.
Mr. Williams in 2003 overturned as unconstitutional Virginia's ban on late-term abortion — a decision twice affirmed by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. And, in 2009, Mr. Williams ruled that Virginia had violated the voting rights of military personnel and other Americans living overseas by failing to mail absentee ballots in sufficient time for them to be counted in the previous year's presidential election.
Mr. Williams who once considered running for Congress as a Republican, was given to artful verbal flourishes, some of which recalled the 19th century. In concluding elaborate stories, details of which his audience might doubt, Mr. Williams could drop his voice a note to say, "I pledge to you" or "It is ever more."
He died in February 2011 at the age of 87.