“The only and most important thing I have to sell is my reputation.” —William H. “Bill” Dodson, II
The Georgia Bar and our Real Property Law Section lost one of its most dedicated and influential members on Jan. 1, with the passing of William H. Dodson II at the age of 71. As much as any of our members, Bill Dodson embodied what we all aspire to be as real property lawyers in Georgia.
Bill’s loss is being felt throughout the legal community and will continue to be: By his peers, for whom he was the best of colleagues. By the generations coming behind him, to whom he was a willing and valuable mentor. By our county clerks, for whom he was a liaison to the real property bar and frequent consultant and collaborator. By our tax commissioners, for whom he has always been an advocate and invaluable resource. By our legislators, for whom he was more of a hand-holder than a lobbyist. By the litigation bar, for whom he was both a colleague and a well-respected expert witness. By all of us who knew him and benefited from his expertise, professionalism, generosity and friendship.
For these reasons and others, Bill was the 2007 recipient of the George A. Pindar Award, which is given by the Real Property Law Section to no more than one attorney each year whose lifetime contribution has been significant to the real estate bar. The main objective of the Pindar Award, according to the official nominating criteria, is to honor a member of the section “who unselfishly gives of him or herself for the benefit of the bar.” Over more than a decade of active practice since then, his selfless contributions to the bar grew even more significant and worthy of recognition. Yet he never made these contributions for recognition, but for the greater good of real property practitioners and those affected by what we do.
Carol Clark, herself a Pindar Award recipient, says “Bill Dodson made practicing law fun. He succeeded me as chair of the Real Property Law Section in 2000, so we had many enjoyable years of service together advancing the opportunities and causes of real estate lawyers in Georgia. His humor in the countless seminars we shared was sparkling, self-deprecating and always brought a fresh perspective to the issue du jour. We sparred often with disparate legal positions but always with mutual respect. His untimely departure has left a gaping hole in our Sandy Springs community, our statewide professional legal network and our circle of friends and colleagues. My heart goes out to his beloved wife Mary and to all of us for this loss.”
Marcus Calloway, another Pindar Award recipient and fellow “dirt lawyer,” remembers Bill as a leader in the world of commercial real estate. “He has been responsible for the education of so many people in our industry,” says Marcus. “His willingness to share his knowledge has helped create the love we all have for him. His passing has caused a void that will never be filled.” And Marcus’ daughter, commercial title attorney Amanda Calloway, considered Bill a mentor second only perhaps to her father. “When Bill was speaking, people wanted to listen. When I think of Bill, I think of the way he was always so friendly and welcoming to me whenever I saw him. His energy made our real property section feel like a community.”
Bill’s legacy is wide-ranging and substantial. It includes the Georgia Title Standards, which he helped write and edit, as well as numerous pieces of legislation he was involved in drafting and fine-tuning over the years. It also includes the Georgia Superior Court Clerks Cooperative Authority and their now-indispensable statewide database of title records found at gsccca.org, which he was instrumental in creating. His seminar presentations numbered in the hundreds and were always entertaining and informative, particularly the “Bill and Danny Show” he and Danny Bailey put on at the Real Property Law Institute each year.
Real estate litigator Monica Gilroy remembers meeting Bill for the first time in 1999 and says he was considered even then “an icon and an expert in property and title law. But more importantly, he was funny and gave everyone in the room a sense that they were part of his world. As a member of the Real Property Law Section Executive Committee, and later as chair, I saw Bill’s passion first hand for what he saw as the derogation of legislation he had crafted for the people of Georgia. His frustration with the need to fix the ‘wrong’ of the situation demonstrated his deep knowledge of the subject matter and his pride of authorship, which was truly well-deserved.”
Elizabeth Roberts, assistant county attorney in Fulton County, remembers Bill as someone who “loved a good joke, good drink, and he liked people. And, Bill was the best mentor a lawyer could have. He tracked my career progress and offered suggestions for next steps when asked.” She refers to Bill affectionately as a “dog guy who drove a Jeep as much for himself as for his dog.”
Bill was renowned for his quotes, which came to be known as “Dodsonisms” and were collected over the years by those who knew and loved him. They include practical advice for real estate lawyers, such as “You can’t do anything with it unless you own it, it’s just that simple,” and “The very first thing you have to ask is, who owns the dirt?” He was once heard to remark, “I’m sorry your property didn’t close, Joe, but I can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” He was frequently heard to remark that so-and-so was “about as subtle as a fart in church!” He could also be philosophical, such as when he observed that “if you’re not embarrassing yourself, then you are not expanding your experience,” or when he advised younger lawyers that “you can’t ever become a great big oak tree if you are standing in the shadow of another oak tree.”
Bill’s accomplishments and contributions are too numerous to list, but the friendship and mentorship he provided to many of us, and the smiles he always brought to our faces (even if it required an inappropriate joke or observation) are what we will cherish the most. Bill was one of a kind and will be sorely missed.
Chad Henderson chairs the Real Property Law Section of the State Bar of Georgia