Jerry Summers: William D. Spears - Athlete, Lawyer And Citizen

  • Monday, June 20, 2022
  • Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

The Memorial Resolution minute entry in the Chancery Court of Hamilton County, Tennessee in 1993 by attorney Tom Kale was titled “The Littlest Giant” as part of his eulogy of his former law partner, William D. "Bill" Spears.

            Although born in the Sequatchie Valley, Bill Spears lived all but four years of his distinguished life in Chattanooga.

            Nearly 30 years after his death, few survivors recall how an individual who never weighed over 140 pounds while attending McCallie School and at 156 pounds while an undergraduate student at Vanderbilt University could be called a “giant.”

            Yet his life’s accomplishments as a lawyer, athlete, patriarch of his family, and as a citizen contradict his shortness in stature.

            From August 31, 1906, until December 31, 1992, he was a loyal supporter of McCallie, Vanderbilt, his family, his church, and the legal profession.

            He served as a trustee of the three institutions of higher learning as well as Girls Preparatory School.

            Although the football stadium on the campus at 500 Dodds Ave. was named for Mr. Spears in 1976, he is best remembered for his gridiron feats at Vanderbilt as a single wing tailback where he earned All American honors in 1927 while a teammate of future Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Larry Creson, who played end and was a favorite target of Spears’ passes under the leadership of legendary coach Don McGugin.  Spears would also assist McGugin with the Commodore football team while attending the law school prior to returning to Chattanooga in the mid-1930s.

            Their combined talents led to Creson being selected as an All-Southern Conference player and Bill Spears' exploits would ultimately result in him being inducted into the National Football Hall of Fame in 1952 with the nickname of “Bounding Bill Spears.”

            Although he only taught English one year at the McCallie School, the yearbook was dedicated in his name in recognition of his many talents.

            In 1977 he was selected the school’s Distinguished Alumnus, and the plaque he received in recognition of his contributions to the school “thanked him for loyalty and service as student and athlete, as teacher and coach, and as trustee and counsel.”

            In the days when Chattanooga had many union organizations Mr. Spears represented the management side of labor matters.  However, “he had great rapport with the union people simply because they believed and trusted him.”

            As a trial attorney he was also a tough fighter on behalf of his clients but was described by fellow attorney Kale as “a fierce competitor, but he was always a gentleman.”

            Many lawyers could learn valuable lessons by studying the extraordinary life of William D. Spears.

            (Height doesn’t always determine the size of the Giant!)

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Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com)

 

           

 

 

           

Bill Spears
Bill Spears
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