Judge William M. Steger, 85, of Tyler, went home to be with the Lord on June 4, 2006, surrounded by family and friends. A memorial service celebrating the life of Judge Steger will be held at Green Acres Baptist Church at 3 p.m. Wednesday, June 7, 2006, with Dr. Paul Powell and Dr. David Dykes officiating. Immediately following the service, all are invited to join the family for a reception in the adjacent Galilee Room at the church. A graveside service, scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday, June 7, 2006, at Rose Hill Cemetery in Tyler under the direction of Burks Walker Tippit Funeral Directors, will precede the memorial service.
Judge Steger was born on Aug. 22, 1920, in Dallas. He later attended Dallas public schools, graduating from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1938. Judge Steger attended Baylor University from 1938 to 1941. Shortly after Pearl Harbor was bombed, Judge Steger left Baylor to volunteer for the Army Air Corps. He was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant and received his pilot's wings in November 1942. He flew 56 combat missions piloting British Spitfire aircraft in the Tunisian, Sicilian and Italian campaigns. In recognition for his bravery as a fighter pilot in World War II, Judge Steger received the Air Medal and four Oak Leaf Clusters and attained the rank of Captain. Upon returning from overseas, Judge Steger served as a test pilot, heading up an experimental program testing the first military jet aircraft until the time he was honorably discharged from the United States Army in January 1947.
Upon completion of his military service to this country, Judge Steger returned to Dallas and married Ann Hollandsworth in 1948 and entered Southern Methodist University Law School, receiving his law degree in 1950. After graduation from law school, he opened his law practice in Longview. While in Longview, Judge Steger became involved in Republican Party politics, serving as chairman of the Eisenhower-Nixon campaign in the East Texas area and attending the 1952 Republican National Convention as a delegate. In 1953, Judge Steger was appointed by President Eisenhower as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. This appointment brought him and Mrs. Steger to Tyler, where Judge Steger served as the United States Attorney until his resignation in 1959. At that time, Judge Steger joined the Tyler law firm of Wilson, Miller, Spivey and Steger, where he practiced law until 1970. During his years of private practice in Tyler, Judge Steger continued to remain active in Republican politics.
The Republican Party of Texas nominated Judge Steger as its candidate for governor in 1960. Judge Steger's campaign drew enough votes to allow the Republican Party to hold its first presidential primary in Texas in 1964. Judge Steger served as president of the Smith County Republican Men's Club in 1961. In 1962, Judge Steger was the Republican Party's candidate for Congress in the 3rd Congressional District, receiving 48 percent of the vote in a narrow loss. He served as a Republican Presidential Elector in 1964 and, in 1966, Judge Steger was elected to the State Republican Executive Committee. In 1967, Judge Steger was appointed as Subcommittee Chairman of the Texas Republican Task Force on Crime and Law Enforcement. Judge Steger attended the 1968 Republican National Convention as a delegate and was re-elected as a member of the State Republican Executive Committee that same year. In 1969, Judge Steger served as Chairman of the Rules Committee at the Texas Republican Party Convention, and later that year capped his political career with his election to the chairmanship of the Republican Party of Texas where he served through the 1970 elections.
Judge Steger was appointed as a United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Texas by President Richard Nixon in December 1970 and proudly served as a federal judge for over 35 years until his death.
During his tenure on the bench, Judge Steger presided over more than 5,000 cases. Some of his noteworthy rulings included a landmark decision in 1975, holding that a private hospital, although receiving state and federal support, could establish policies denying use of its facilities for elective abortions. In 1980, he presided over one of the first cases in America that applied the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) resulting in the conviction of numerous Gregg County officials for offenses ranging from solicitation of murder to facilitation of gambling activity. In 1983, Judge Steger presided over United States v. Rex Cauble, another significant case involving the RICO statute. At the trial of that case, a jury convicted Cauble of masterminding an organization known as the "Cowboy Mafia" that imported tons of marijuana into the United States from South America. In 1986, he tried United States v. DKG, Inc., a precedent-setting case involving forfeiture of property purchased with funds derived from illegal narcotics transactions. As a result of that conviction, the government seized properties that were later auctioned for more than $10 million and deposited in the United States Treasury.
For many years, Judge Steger has been listed in Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the Southwest and Who's Who in Law in America. He was a 32nd-degree Mason and a Shriner. He was a charter member of Green Acres Baptist Church, where he served as founding Trustee and a member of the original Board of Deacons. He was an active member of the Green Acres Baptist choir for more than 40 years. Judge Steger loved the outdoors and was an avid fisherman all of his life. Some of his happiest times were on the lake fishing with his law clerks and his many friends.
Judge Steger will be remembered as a man of high moral character, integrity and fairness. He loved being a judge and enjoyed nothing more than presiding over an interesting lawsuit tried by good lawyers. More important to Judge Steger, than any of his professional or personal accomplishments, were his wife, Ann, and his son, Reed. He was a devoted husband and father, a wonderful friend, and a faithful believer in Jesus Christ. He loved his Savior, his church, and his family. Judge Steger will be keenly missed by all those who knew and loved him.
Judge Steger is survived by his wife, Ann Hollandsworth Steger of Tyler, and nieces and nephews, Barbara Schoolcraft, Sally Forte, Ann Nelson Grant, Scot McComas, Kelly Edens and Andrew McComas. Judge Steger was preceded in death by his son, Merritt Reed Steger.
Pallbearers will be Dr. Ben Bridges, Dr. Doug Coltman, Harry Caserta Jr., David Gohmert, Dr. Derek Grant, Bill Hartley, Reaves Murphey and Allen Pye Jr.
Honorary pallbearers will be members of the judiciary of the United States District Court for the Eastern District and Judge Steger's current and former law clerks.
The family will receive friends at Burks Walker Tippit Funeral Home in Tyler 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 6, 2006.
Memorials in honor of Judge Steger may be made to the Judge William M. Steger Endowed Scholarship, Baylor University School of Law, P.O. Box 97288, Waco, 76798-7288, Meals on Wheels, 3001 Robertson Road, Tyler, 75701, Attn: Memorials, Bethesda Health Clinic, P.O. Box 1999, Tyler, 75703, Attn: Ann Kimbrough or the charity of your choice.
Published in Tyler Morning Telegraph on Jun. 6, 2006.