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Karen Williams-Smith (1967-2021): 'Passion, integrity and energy’

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Karen Williams-Smith (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Karen Williams-Smith, the first Black woman president of the Bermuda Bar Association (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

The island’s first Black female president of the Bermuda Bar Association has been recalled as a compassionate and driven family lawyer.

Ross Smith, husband of Karen Williams-Smith, said yesterday: “Her focus was on her family, starting with her two daughters”, Azaria and Ambya.

He said she was a devoted member of Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Southampton and “a God-fearing woman”.

“She was tough emotionally, which she got from her mother,” Mr Smith said.

“That same spirit has been passed on to our children.”

Ms Williams-Smith was elected to lead the Bar Association in 2017, serving to 2019.

She advocated for expanding legal aid services in the West End and paid tribute to her predecessors on taking the role, telling The Royal Gazette: “Women like Shirley Simmons and Dame Lois Browne-Evans paved the way for us.

“They showed that with a lot of hard work and determination we can achieve and fulfil a lifelong career at the Bar.”

George Jones, the current president, said: “Of course it goes without say that the news of Karen’s passing has been received with tremendous sorrow by Bar Council and indeed I suggest all those members of the Bermuda Bar Association who were fortunate enough to have known her, and we offer our sincerest condolences to her family.”

Mr Jones said she had been “a passionate advocate for access to law”, helping found the free legal advice clinic at the West End.

He added: “In line with her matrimonial law practice, she was committed to improving court procedures where family law was involved, and particularly where children were involved, often consulting on draft bills relating to these areas.

“She presided over the Bar Council during a period that saw many changes affect the practice of law in Bermuda, including the expansion of the profession to include local offices of overseas firms.“

Ms Williams-Smith was also part of consultation for expanding overseas registered associate opportunities, and the modernisation of Bermuda’s anti-money laundering and antiterrorist financing regime for attorneys and accountants, in preparation for the island’s national risk assessment by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force.

Mr Jones said: “Not only did she help guide the future for the profession, but it is befitting that she herself made history as the first Black woman to be appointed to the position as president of the Bermuda Bar Association.

“She also chaired the Bar Association’s subcommittees on Legal Aid and Family Law, and sat on the Judicial and Legal Services Committee and Inter-Agency Committee for Children and Families.”

Cindy Clarke, the Director of Public Prosecution, said the department was left shocked and saddened by news of Ms Williams-Smith’s death last week.

She added: “The loss to the profession is tangible and real to everyone.

“I sat on Bar Council with Karen, and was honoured to serve with her while she was the first Black female president.

“She worked with passion, integrity and energy. She will always be remembered for her nuanced work, which she conducted with a rare friendliness and genuine warmth.

“Our sorrow is lessened only slightly with the comforting thought that we had the privilege to know her.”

Ms Smith-Williams’ husband said she was highly focused when at work, but loved her family, her three dogs and spending time on the water.

He added: “All her close friends knew her as a true friend.”

Delroy Duncan, QC, who worked with Ms Smith-Williams, called her “a unique, incomparable member of the Trott and Duncan team and the Bermuda Bar”.

“Karen’s daily testimony was her faith in God which permeated every aspect of her life and work. She was much beloved by the staff.

“In addition to her busy practice, Karen was the director responsible for human resources.”

Mr Duncan said all staff “felt comfortable speaking to Karen on any matter at any time of the day”.

“Karen’s warm, genuine demeanour and comforting presence reflected in her effervescent smile always lifted the spirit throughout the office as soon as she entered the building.”

He added: “God gave Karen a talent for family law practice, and through her work, she felt his pleasure.

“Karen possessed that rare combination of firmness and compassion, which made her ideally suited to the practice of family law.

“Karen reached the peak of her profession as a family lawyer, successfully handling some of the most complex and challenging family law disputes heard by the courts of Bermuda.”

Mr Duncan said she was “a true trailblazer serving as a member of the Bermuda Bar Council and elected as the first black female president of the Bermuda Bar Council, an achievement of which her family and Trott and Duncan are incredibly proud.”

He added: “The legal profession could use several Karens, but unfortunately, God gifted us with one.

Mr Duncan and the firm’s staff gave her family “our deepest condolences and thanks for the life she gave to her work”.

⋅ Karen Elizabeth Williams-Smith, a lawyer and former president of the Bermuda Bar Association, was born on December 27, 1967. She died on August 25, 2021, aged 53.

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Published September 02, 2021 at 10:42 am (Updated September 02, 2021 at 10:42 am)

Karen Williams-Smith (1967-2021): 'Passion, integrity and energy’

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