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1953: William T. Harrison, Jr. Joins Firm

At the same time that Parker was joining the firm, Williams was interviewing and about to hire perhaps the single most influential attorney he would ever take on: William Thomas Harrison, Jr. Scholar, athlete and musician, Bill Harrison played piccolo in the University of Florida marching band. Harrison was also a young Korean War combat veteran with an enviable pedigree. His father was Judge William T. Harrison of Manatee County whose tenure ran from 1923 until 1959, serving an original circuit that covered eight counties, from Manatee to Everglades City to Winter Haven. Born in the family home on Fourth Street in Palmetto in 1928, the younger Harrison was from a old line of long-time Floridians.

A law review editor at the University of Florida, Harrison was recruited to join the Bartow firm Holland, Bevis & McRae, today’s Holland and Knight, by none other than famed Florida attorney Chesterfield Smith. But immediately on his June 1951 LL. B. graduation, he was called up to serve in Korea, where he saw combat from April 1952 through February 1953. He was an Army First Lieutenant via the ROTC, a Firing Battery Executive Officer giving commands to a battalion of soldiers to shoot heavy artillery at the central front of the war.

Back in Florida in February 1953, Harrison’s offer from Holland, Bevis & McRae still stood, but at the same time, JJ Williams was calling. It was heady stuff for the then 24-year-old attorney, one of the last Florida class—along with Dietz—not required to take a written bar exam, which became mandatory after the spring of 1951.

“Mr. Williams called and asked that I come see him and that I not commit until I talked to him,” Harrison said in 1985. “The big difference was the more relaxed atmosphere [in Sarasota]. Holland, Bevis & McRae wanted and almost demanded that I come to work the next Monday because they were head over heels in work. Mr. Williams said, ‘Take your time.’ I was tired, I had high blood pressure and the whole kit and caboodle after the [war].”

Ultimately, Harrison joined Williams, Dart & Bell on February 27, 1953, impressed by Saturdays off at the firm, when that was still uncommon, as well as the offices on the top floor of the Palmer Bank Building, which now featured window box air conditioning, a true luxury for the time.

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