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April 26, 2023

Guest Column

By Andrew J. Demetriou, Husch Blackwell LLP, Los Angeles, CA

We have lost a star in the firmament of the Health Law Section with the passing of our esteemed Past Chair and Section Delegate William W. Horton on March 7, 2023, at his home in Birmingham, Alabama.

Several tributes to Bill have been published in the last month, uniformly praising his character, intelligence, wit, and dedication to his family, his law practice, and the many associations in which he was an active volunteer and leader. I’d like to use this column to tell you more about his importance to the Health Law Section and the American Bar Association.

Bill’s involvement stretched back two decades, starting with his invitation to speak at an Emerging Issues in Health Law Conference in Miami in 2003. Due to confusion about submission of conference materials, he had not provided his outline to the Section staff to create copies for distribution to the participants. Rather than just ignoring the problem, Bill somehow found a Kinko’s that was still open late in the evening, and at his own expense, produced hundreds of copies of his paper to honor his commitment as a presenter. Even though he was only known slightly to a few of us from other bar activities, this gesture marked him as possessing the qualities that made him a significant contributor to the Section.

Bill was quickly assimilated into the leadership structure, serving as an Interest Group leader, a program chair, member of the Council, and, ultimately, Section Chair in 2015–2016. In each of these roles, he served with distinction. Beyond that, he served in various ABA roles with the Section Officers Conference (SOC), the Standing Committees on Continuing Legal Education and Youth at Risk, and SOC/Center for Professional Responsibility (CPR) Advisory Committee on Professional Responsibility and Ethics. He was a member of the Presidential Appointment Committees for both Past President Bob Carlson and, more recently, President-Elect Mary Smith, in which he assisted the incoming ABA Presidents in making hundreds of appointments to Committees, Commissions, and Task Forces. His sage advice and encyclopedic knowledge of key individuals was highly valued in these roles.

When Howard Wall stepped down as one the Section’s Delegates to the House of Delegates to join the Board of Governors, Bill willingly assumed that role. He rapidly achieved stature as an important and highly respected Delegate. His views on resolutions presented by other entities were eagerly sought, and he provided sound guidance to the Council on matters of interest to the Section. He was recruited by his good friend, Past President Bob Carlson, to serve on an important working group that made recommendations on changes to the process by which resolutions could be presented the House.

Many years ago, our Past Chairs Paul Herrington and Tony Patterson emphasized the importance to the Section of greater involvement in the larger ABA. Bill was a willing apostle in this effort, and his service brought great credit and recognition to the Section, contributing to a legacy that will live on into the future. He was truly deserving of the Lifetime Achievement Award the Section conferred on him at the recent EMI conference in San Diego.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Bill’s enormous contributions to the culture of the Section. He never let his various titles and distinctions interfere with his fundamental humanity, and the extent of his web of friends within the Section was incredible. His credo was that in his world there were no strangers, just friends he had not yet met. He was continually advancing others in the Section by agreeing to involve them in presentations, introducing them to Section leaders and advocating for greater engagement by the Section with its members, particularly younger members and those from diverse backgrounds. In response to a tribute to Bill that I wrote last month, I was amazed, but gratified, at the number of comments from Section members noting how Bill had influenced and helped them. A great strength of the Health Law Section is the camaraderie among its members, which is reflected in its vibrant leadership. Bill had a major role in creating the feeling of family that is so palpable in our meetings and Section activities.

Personally, Bill and I enjoyed a long and deep friendship, collaborating on dozens of programs, articles, and other projects. We shared a lot of common interests, particularly the role of lawyers in society and the elements of professionalism and ethical behavior to which we should all aspire. He was always a great sounding board for me, and it has been cathartic to review our extensive correspondence over many years, which ranged from the serious to the trivial, always peppered with his great command of language, his humor, and deep insights on whatever topic came up. It was always a highlight for me at any meeting to be able to spend some time with Bill and talk about everything or nothing, often over a favored scotch.

We are all better for having known Bill, and I am certain that his example will serve as a persistent reminder of the values and aspirations of our Section.

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