Karen Hastie Williams, JD, was a retired attorney and partner of Crowell & Moring, LLP, where her practice focused on legislative regulation, public and corporate contract law, and strategic diversity counseling for corporations. Best-known as a distinguished voice in public contract law, Ms. Williams was a former chair of the American Bar Association’s section on public contract law and was an in-demand speaker and consultant for much of her career. She began her career studying at the Universite de Neuchatel before earning a Bachelor of Arts at Bates College in 1966. Ms. Williams went on to complete a Master of Arts from the Fletcher School at Tufts University the following year, and studied law at the Catholic University of America, earning her Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1973.
Before beginning her law practice, Ms. Williams spent two years in the international government relations department of the Mobil Oil Corporation and as a staff assistant to the United States Senate District Committee. After graduating, she clerked for Chief Judge Spottswood W. Robinson III of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, leading to a second extremely competitive clerkship for Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1975 until 1977. While clerking for the United States Supreme Court, Ms. Williams concurrently practiced as an associate of the firm Frank, Harris, Shriver, & Kampelman, departing in 1977 to become chief counsel to the United States Budget Committee. Ms. Williams continued her work in policy into the early 1980s when she was appointed administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy in the Executive Office of the President in Washington, D.C., where she remained for the next year.
In 1982, Ms. Williams was named a partner of Crowell & Moring, LLP, where she maintained her practice until her retirement in 2004. She considered her long-term involvement with the board of directors of many major corporations to be a highlight of her career. She sat on the board of the Gannett Company from 1997 to 2021, the Chubb Corporation and WGL Holdings from 2000 to 2021, and SunTrust Bank from 2002 to 2021, and was named a public life member of the IRS Oversight Board in 2000. Ms. Williams was a former member of the corporate boards of Washington Gas Holdings, Fannie Mae Corporation, and Continental/United Airlines.
Ms. Williams particularly treasured her work with Fannie Mae and Continental Airlines, explaining that she “was with Continental Airlines from start to finish and Fannie Mae from start to finish,” staying with Fannie Mae through the tenure of two of its four CEOs, and with Continental until its acquisition by United Airlines. Beyond her work in the corporate world, she was a longtime trustee of Bates College, Amherst College, and the Black Student Fund, and she was active on the volunteer boards of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Trilateral Commission, and the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
In recognition of her unique background and history of distinctive service to the legal field, Ms. Williams was interviewed for the Women Achievement Program, an oral history project of Stanford University, and was presented with the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award. Staying current in her field even in retirement, she remained affiliated with the American Bar Association, the National Board of Directors, the Washington Bar Association and the National Contract Management Association. In her leisure time, Ms. Williams continued her tradition of volunteerism, enjoyed spending time with family, and was an active congregant at St. John’s Church, where she was a member for more than five decades.