First a mortician, then a lawyer, and finally a judge: William T. Stone set his sights on the glass ceiling. By the 1970s, he crashed through it.
His death on Jan. 18, just 10 days after celebrating his 87th birthday, marked the end of a long and respected life. William Stone is thought to be the first African-American judge in Virginia.
Before he was a judge, he served the public in an altogether different way, as an undertaker at his aunt and uncle’s funeral home on Pocahontas Trail in James City County.
At Whiting’s Funeral Home, William Stone treated grieving families with gracious serenity.
Throughout his entire life, his work in the funeral home reinforced his belief that all human beings are created equal and should be treated as such.
“Everybody deserves a burial with reverence,” said Jean Wright, of one of William Stone’s philosophies. “He treated everybody the same.”
William Stone’s son, Christopher Stone, said his father was known to dress the deceased from his personal closet if a family’s loved one died without proper burial outfits.
“His selflessness made him so much to so many people,” the younger Stone said. “If you walked in the door you’d have seen a huge smile and a hand extended to you. He shook everyone’s hand.
His genial nature remained unaffected by his years in the courtroom.
William Stone’s career as a lawyer in Newport News began in 1963, Wright said. One year later he moved his practice to the Greater Williamsburg area.
It was in those early years serving as an attorney that William Stone decided “a right to a fair trial” was just as important as giving the deceased “a burial with reverence,” Wright said.
By the 1970s, William Stone had been appointed to be a judge on the Williamsburg-James City County Courthouse. He rose to the bench with the same principles as when he had started practicing law as a young attorney in the Civil Rights Era.
On one occasion, Judge William Stone stamped his feet and dismissed charge after charge facing a defendant.
On another occasion, 10 p.m. approached and William Stone’s family grew increasingly worried about him. By 11 p.m. the family called the courthouse to discover he was still holding proceedings.
Later in life, William Stone was one of the founding members of the Williamsburg chapter of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, according to Basileus Cameron Mix of the chapter.
“In my five years of knowing Judge Stone, for him to be the first black judge in Virginia was always something I was in awe of,” Mix said. “Whatever the situation was, he treated you with the utmost respect.”
William Stone let the fraternity use his funeral home as a place to meet, and he was always available to offer advice to the other men in the chapter if they needed it, Mix said. William Stone was there every time the fraternity needed help.
The depth of William Stone’s conviction is felt the strongest by those he supported over his 87 years. He gave money to those in need.
He supported a church that meets in the chapel of his funeral home. And, he lent financial support to a men’s club.
But, even more important than money or work, was the unconditional love Christopher Stone said his father gave people.
“When I was in school we had assignments to write about, like superheroes — Superman, Batman, all these super-power folks,” Christopher Stone said. “I always wrote about my dad.”