It is with great sadness that Bass, Berry & Sims announces the passing of our partner and friend Wilson “Woody” Sims, Sr. His impact on the firm was immense both for his work and his friendship. Our sincerest thoughts, prayers and condolences are with his family and friends. The service for Mr. Sims was held at West End United Methodist Church on Wednesday, July 6 at 11 a.m.
Mr. Sims graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1946 and Vanderbilt University Law School in 1948. He served in the United States Marine Corps for three years during World War II and two years during the Korean Conflict. He joined Bass, Berry & Sims in June 1948 and for over 50 years practiced law in a variety of specialties. While Mr. Sims began as a trial attorney, his practice shifted to labor law and then to a general business practice. During these years he served as general counsel or on the board of directors of nine publicly-held companies, as well as several privately-held companies. In more recent years he confined his practice to commercial litigation and now practices only on a consulting basis with the active lawyers of the firm.
In his active years, Mr. Sims participated energetically in the affairs of the profession serving as President of the Nashville Bar Association, Speaker of the House of Delegates of the Tennessee Bar Association and President of the Tennessee Bar Association. He was the founding President of the Tennessee Bar Foundation. During the 1960’s Mr. Sims was appointed by the Governor of Tennessee as chairman of the Tennessee Commission on Human Relations to deal with troubled areas of race relations within the State. Also, in 1959 and 1960 he served as a member of the Tennessee Legislature. He is a life member of the Chancellor’s Council at both the University of North Carolina and Vanderbilt University, has served as a member of the board of visitors of the University of North Carolina, as President of the Vanderbilt Law School Alumni Association and as the Founder of its Dean’s Council. He has received the Distinguished Service Award from Vanderbilt Law School.
In 1988 Mr. Sims was awarded the highest honor of the Nashville Bar Association citing him for “outstanding contributions to his community and faithful service as a member of the Bar;” and in 1987 was cited by the Supreme Court of Tennessee “for his leadership and service to the legal profession as the first chairperson of the Commission on Continuing Legal Education.” Mr. Sims has also served as a Director or Trustee of several charitable and religious enterprises in the Nashville area, including 20 years as a Trustee of Meharry Medical College.
In 1983 I was co-counsel defending a client in a death penalty case that attracted a lot of news coverage both for its titillating allegations and for its rarity, the Tennessee death penalty having just been reinstated in 1978. Our client was convicted and sentenced to death by electrocution. It was a harrowing experience. A week after the trial ended I received a letter from Mr. Sims. He said that he had followed the trial and acknowledged how emotionally difficult the representation must have been. He went on to thank me for taking on this case. It was, he wrote, the ethical obligation of all lawyers to provide representation in difficult cases and that all lawyers should be grateful for lawyers like me who did. And that he was. The grace of this note from a preeminent lawyer and community leader helped me to see beyond failure and claim my value as a lawyer. Mr. Sims’ words and example have continued to inspire my work as a lawyer through almost 40 years. I am so grateful for his life and example.
As a young associate at the firm, the best note you could get was “See me, WS.” New business awaited.
On one occasion when I ventured into Mr. Sims office in prompt response to such a note, he turned around in his chair with a huge smile on his face: “Come in, Lee. Business is so good I don’t have time to pass all of it out.”
Another day he grabbed me as he was headed out the door of his office on the 27th floor of the First American Center (now UBS Plaza): “Lee, come with me. We have to go see President Willard Collins, President of Lipscomb University. “We” (never I) were retained us to rezone and sell the A.M. Burton property in Green Hills for what would become “Burton Hills.” The rezoning was a tussle with the neighbors, but Steve Flatt, at that time President Collins’s chief assistant and now President of NHC, worked closely with us to get the job done and the sale completed in a professional manner and with a multi-million dollar check to Lipscomb.
Woody Sims was an expert in the art of client relationships and all of us learned much simply by emulating him.
– Lee Barfield
I have been honored to assist Mr. Sims in the office over the past decade-plus. We engaged in so many fruitful and encouraging conversations whether it be about his experiences practicing law, growing up, dogs, hunting, fishing, friends, family, and faith. He never failed to tell a good story. Even though we were from different generations, we became true friends. Some may not consider the following to be proper office etiquette, but since this was from my last visit to him at his home as a friend, my sweetest memory will be that our last words spoken to each other were, “I love you” and “I love you, too”. He was a kind soul.
– Brenda Reynolds