Friends Mourn Longtime Federal Judge, War Hero William Steger

He is remembered as a "giant" of a man.  Monday, many are mourning the death of federal District Judge William Steger.   He passed away Sunday night at a Tyler hospital after being in failing health. He was 85.

Steger not only served as federal judge for decades, he was a World War II hero and political trailblazer.  Today, there's a void where friends and colleages say he loved so much -- the courthouse.

"When you met him, he's just larger than life," remembers his senior briefing attorney Matt Flanery.

Above all, Judge Steger commanded respect -- not just because of his stature, but his history and his wisdom.   Those who love him say his love for what was right set him apart.

"He could cut through any problem with the wisdom only someone could who has been around as long as he was," Flanery said.

He served 35 years on the federal bench, something that was celebrated if with a bit of understatement at a party in November.

"It's been an interesting experience. I've tried many cases and I've enjoyed every minute on the bench," Steger told us then.

His time at work was limited this year by his ill health.  Judge Leonard Davis saw Steger just a few weeks ago.

"He was working hard in the rehab in the hospital and I said, 'You hang in there, you're one of the last of the greatest generation,' and indeed he was," Davis said.

Steger enlisted after Pearl Harbor, piloting Spitfires over North Africa and Italy.  He flew 56 combat missions.  The war hero was appointed U.S. Attorney by Eisenhower, then ran for governor, and then congress.

He didn't win, but paved the way for the Republican party to contend with the ruling Democrats, and hold their own political primaries.

Steger then went to the federal bench in 1970.

"He's mentored so many prominient attorneys in Texas and judges as well," Flanery says.

"He had done it so long and so well that he had an innate sense of what was going on in the courtroom," Davis adds.

"This was serious business when you got into his court. He certainly had compassion, but he was also looking for a concise statement of the case and to get to the bottom of things.  It's just a life well lived and we've got to celebrate that," said District Clerk David Maland.

Friends say it was his work he loved -- a passion for justice he told KLTV five years ago came from his love of America.

"I have a very deep love for this country. It's been good to me and I've been given many opportunities. I love my country," Steger said.

A public memorial service is set for 3 p.m. Wednesday at Tyler's Green Acres Baptist Church. Steger was one of about 300 charter members when the church was formed in 1955.

Reported by Morgan Palmer.