William Walter "Bill" Farris, "Mr. Democrat" to several decades of Shelby County and Tennessee Democrats, died early Thursday at Methodist Hospital Central from the effects of what a family member described as "either a heart attack or a stroke."
Mr. Farris, who was a few months short of his 80th birthday, had been ailing for some years but did his best to keep up a round of social, political, and business activities. He attended the recent Jackson Day dinner of the state Democratic Party in Nashville and continued to monitor affairs at Farris, Mathews, Branan, Bobango, and Hellen, the current name of the influential law firm he founded some decades back.
Mr. Farris was born in Newbern and grew up in Dyersburg before coming to Memphis. His achievements in politics, both as a principal actor himself and as a behind-the-scenes presence, transcended a mere listing of his involvements, which were legion. During his long career, he served as an aide to the late former Governor Gordon Browning, as state Democratic chairman, and twice as local party chairman. He was a member of the Memphis city commission and chairman of the Shelby County Quarterly Court the two precursor bodies to the current city council and county commission, respectively. He was a member of the Tennessee state senate and made respectable runs for the offices of Memphis mayor and Tennessee governor.
But it was as a fundraiser, kingmaker, and all-around guiding hand to political hopefuls and office-holders that the name of Bill Farris was best known nationally as well as at state and local levels. It was largely through his efforts that the 1978 midterm Democratic national convention -- the first of its kind -- was hosted in Memphis.
He leaves his wife, Jimmie Wall Farris; three sons, Bill Jr.,Jimmy, and John; two daughters, Karen and Laura; 11 grandchildren; and two great grandchildren.
Visitation will be at the Farris home at 392 Sweetbrier from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, August 8th. Funeral will be at Eudora Baptist Church at 10:30 Saturday, and burial will be at Elmwood Cemetery. Memphis Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.