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Fritzie Williams, standing with me outside the Fritzie G. Williams Lecture Hall, named in her honor at Chapman University's Dale E. Fowler School of Law

Fritzie Williams, standing with me outside the Fritzie G. Williams Lecture Hall, named in her honor at Chapman University’s Dale E. Fowler School of Law

I was introduced to Fritzie Williams through our mutual membership in Chapman University’s major support group Women of Chapman. And, it wasn’t long before I found out she was a Capricorn, born on the very same day, January 14th. That fact cemented our friendship, and we’ve been friends ever since.

As well as I thought I knew her, I did not know about Fritzie’s marriage to the dynamic Frank Williams. Frank passed away in 1981, but that was many years before I met her. I found out about Frank by attending the naming of the Fritzie G. Williams Lecture Hall at Chapman’s Dale E. Fowler School of Law. Having earned his bachelor’s degree of the University of Missouri and his law degree from the Yale Law School, Frank was a Marine fighter pilot in World War II and, later, engaged in more than 100 combat missions in the Korean War, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal. After he and Fritzie moved to Orange County in 1958, Frank became a superb trial lawyer and skilled administrator who rose through the ranks to become Orange County’s Deputy Public Defender. Highly respected throughout the state, he was elected in 1978 to serve as president of the California Public Defenders Association. Following Frank’s death, Fritzie wanted to honor him, so she chose to donate $250,000 to the Chapman University School of Law to establish and endow the Frank L. Williams, Jr. Professorship in Criminal Law. It was the first endowed professorship at the university’s nascent law school.

And, so it was that Fritzie recently elected to give another gift to the Dale E. Fowler School of Law, as it is now called. Her $1 million gift was reciprocated by the naming of the Fritzie G. Williams Lecture Hall, and, under the direction of the school’s amazing dean Tom Campbell, a reception and dinner was given in her honor. Campbell, reviewing Fritzie’s largesse, said at the dedication and unveiling of Fritzie’s portrait and plaque in the newly-named lecture hall, “At a time when there was no ABA- approved law school in Orange County, who comes along but Fritzie Williams, who wanted to honor her deceased husband. She could have given the money to Frank’s alma mater, Yale University, but she decided to give it to Chapman, showing that she believed in us. She gave us confidence when we had little more than a dream.”

Chapman University President Jim Doti, another huge fan of Fritzie’s, said of the effervescent lady, “She has what I call verve, spirit and charisma. She brightens any room.” He recognized Fritzie’s longtime companion, Al Kersten, as being a great support for her.

At the dinner, which followed in a separate room, Campbell introduced Chapman Law Professor Scott Howe, who currently holds the Frank L. Williams endowed chair, and presented Fritzie with a replica of the lecture hall portrait and plaque (see photo), much to her delight. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the talented guitarist, Adam Borecki, who entertained throughout dinner. He is a recent graduate of Chapman’s College of Performing Arts. 

In closing, may I say that everyone loves Fritzie. You can’t help it! She always has that dazzling smile at the ready and makes you feel so special when she talks with you. I feel so fortunate to have met her and look forward to celebrating many more January 14th birthdays together. Here’s to you, Fritzie, my dear, sweet, larger-than-life friend!

Selected photos by John Saade