Main content

Emory community mourns the loss of beloved alumnus O'Kelley 51C 53L

Emory University School of Law |
Emory Law alumnus
Judge William O'Kelley 51C 53L

The Emory community is saddened to report the recent loss of a dear alumnus, Judge William O'Kelley 51C 53L. Recognized as a member of the Emory Law 100 for outstanding contributions to the Emory community, O’Kelley was also a 2014 recipient of the Emory Medal, the university’s highest alumni award. In the nomination for the award, he was praised for his even temperament and high ethical standards on the bench, combined with “genuine concern for the needs of all who appear before him.” 

O’Kelley was a senior US district court judge for Georgia’s Northern District. He was nominated by President Richard Nixon in 1970, served as chief judge from 1988 to 1994, and assumed senior status in 1996. US Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger appointed O’Kelley to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, where he served from 1980 to 1987. O’Kelley was appointed to the Alien Terrorist Removal Court for successive five-year terms by Chief Justices William Rehnquist and John Roberts. Prior to becoming judge, he was an assistant US attorney and a special hearing officer for the US Department of Justice. He also served in the US Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps.

Following election by his peers, O’Kelley served on the Judicial Conference of the United States. US Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist nominated him for the Board of the Federal Judicial Center, the educational and training branch of the federal judiciary.

O’Kelley received Emory’s Law’s Distinguished Alumnus Award and the Significant Sig Award from the national Sigma Chi Fraternity. The Judge William C. O’Kelley Endowed Scholarship Fund was created in his honor, an effort led by Emory alumni who were former law clerks. He has served on the Law Advisory Board, the Emory Board of Trustees, and many university committees.  

He is survived by his wife Ernestine “Teeny” Allen O'Kelley, their two children, Virginia Leigh O'Kelley Wood and William C. “Bo” O'Kelley Jr., five grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter. 

Judge O’Kelley’s services will be held July 22, 2017, at 1:00 p.m. at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church. In lieu of flowers, please consider donations in memory of Judge O’Kelley to support The Judge William C. O'Kelley Endowed Scholarship Fund at Emory University School of Law c/o Office of Gift Records, 1762 Clifton Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30322.