Follow the history of California—and Berkeley Law—and you’ll meet Bill Bagley at many milestones. Undergrad UC Berkeley valedictorian at age 20 and Phi Beta Kappa, he later made Law Review and was in the first class to graduate from the then-new Boalt Hall.
As state assemblymember, he was one of only three Republicans to support the landmark Rumford Fair Housing Act of 1963 and then helped kill its repeal, urged by then- Governor Ronald Reagan. Bagley joined Assembly Speaker Willie Brown at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1968 funeral. As a UC Regent, he led the repeal of a 1996 Regents’ resolution eliminating affirmative action in admissions and hiring. Bagley earned many friends during his public life, and during a 62-year legal career that addressed issues central to the state’s well-being: transportation, utilities, land-use, and water. While serving on the California Public Utilities Commission in the early 1980s, he befriended Sam Wheeler, scion of a Southern California water utility. In 2011, Wheeler asked Bagley—then at Nossaman LLP—to facilitate the sale of his company.
“When we completed that deal, I asked Sam if he’d consider donating to Berkeley Law,” Bagley says. “We met with Dean Edley, but received no promises.” Two years passed before Bagley got the good news. “Lo and behold, Sam gave $1 million to the school,” he says. The donation helped create the Wheeler Water Institute.
Long an advocate of collegiality in government, Bagley watches this year’s electioneering with trepidation. He wrote the book on the subject—literally. His 2011 California’s Golden Years: When Government Worked and Why, published by UC Berkeley, makes a strong case for reaching across the aisle.
“Bill always counseled that whenever a colleague, friend or foe, helps you out, don’t miss the opportunity to say ‘thank you,’ ” recalls Michael Whitehead, who worked with Bagley at the California Water Association.
At home with his wife of 50 years, Diane, in Marin County (where part of Highway 101 is named in his honor), Bagley continues his battle for civil rights, urging associates to combat the latest rounds of anti-Muslim rhetoric.
He says he’d like to be remembered for earning respect and friendship by leading a principled life. Sounds like he’s made an impact, if his former Nossaman partners are to be believed.
“Bill was our chief sage and raconteur,” says Rob Thornton. Joe Guzman ’78 says Bagley “truly believes in opportunity for everyone. He’s spent his life employing his considerable intellect and skills to achieve that goal.”