Senior United States District Judge William Hamilton Walls, age 86, died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in Robbinsville, N.J., on July 11, 2019. Judge Walls was born at home in Atlantic City, N.J., on Nov. 28, 1932 to Clifford H. Walls and Nannette V. Walls, née Anderson. Auspiciously, he was delivered by the pioneering Black aviator, Dr. Albert E. Forsythe. A voracious reader and keen student, Judge Walls excelled in school. At Dartmouth, Judge Walls studied international relations and art history, which seeded a lifetime passion for art, travel and global politics.
Judge Walls graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth in 1954 and then entered Yale Law School. Late night bridge games, Yale Repertory Theatre plays, and New York City jaunts visiting old Atlantic City friends both competed with and supplemented his law studies. After graduating from Yale Law School in 1957, Judge Walls returned to Atlantic City to study for the bar and intern at a local law firm. While there, he was smitten by a pretty and elusive, young teacher, Grace Katherine Graves, also an Atlantic City native. They were married in 1960 at Saint Monica, the Roman Catholic mission church in Atlantic City.
Judge Walls and Grace moved to Newark and son was tapped for a position in Mayor Hugh Addonizio's administration as an assistant corporation counsel. After a brief stint as a municipal judge, in 1970, Judge Walls would become Newark's first Black corporation counsel. In 1977, Judge Walls began his judicial career in earnest, serving on the Essex County Court for two years then the New Jersey Superior Court for the next 15. He enjoyed his time at county and state court but it was the federal bench he coveted. Judge Walls would realize his ambition when in 1994 he was nominated by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg and appointed by President William J. Clinton as a United States District Court Judge for the District of New Jersey - he thus became the first male Black federal judge in the state of New Jersey.
Though he was devoted to his work, Judge Walls' love of family and breadth of interests ensured a robust life beyond his position. Whether it was photographing butterflies with his children and friends in Morris County's Great Swamp, chatting about politics and sports at family gatherings with a glass of the latest Chilean wine he had discovered, carefully considering each grandchild's interests as he selected their books, teaching his son photography, researching electric cars for his daughter, haggling with rug merchants in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, reading about his beloved Kachina dolls, or serving on non-profit boards, Judge Walls lived a rich, engaged and fulfilling life. He is survived by his former wife, Grace K. Walls; his children, Claire A. Walls (Banks Tarver) and Peter G. Walls.