Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. was born in Suffolk, Virginia on September 19, 1907, but spent most of his life in Richmond, Virginia.
He received his B.S. and LL.B degrees, in 1929 and 1931 respectively, from Washington and Lee University. In 1932, he received an LL.M degree from Harvard Law School. That same year, he entered the practice of law with the Richmond firm of Christian, Barton and Parker. In 1935, he joined Hunton, Williams, Anderson, Gay and Moore. He became a partner in 1938, and remained with the firm until his appointment to the Supreme Court. He combined trial work and corporate law with a general civil practice.
In 1936, he married Josephine Pierce Rucker. She died in 1996. They had three daughters and a son.
During his World War II service (1942-1946), Powell rose from First Lieutenant to full Colonel in the Army Air Corps. He spent thirty-three months overseas in the North African and European Theaters as a Combat and Staff Intelligence Officer. In 1944, he became a Special Branch Ultra Officer involved in the breaking of the highest level German codes.
After the war, Powell resumed his law practice, becoming a senior, named partner in 1958. He became both the firm's most effective "rainmaker" and its chief practitioner of pro bono work.
Powell believed in the importance of contributing to the legal profession through active participation in associations. He served as the President of the American Bar Association from 1964 to 1965; of the American College of Trial Lawyers from 1968 to 1969; and of the American Bar Foundation from 1969-1971.
Public service at local, state and national levels was, to Powell, a lawyer's duty. He chaired the commission which wrote the charter introducing the city manager form of government to Richmond (1947-1948). In 1950, he became a member of the Richmond School board. His chairmanship (1952-1961) included the difficult years of desegregation following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. He was a member (1961-1969) and president (1968-1969) of the Virginia State Board of Education. The Virginia Commission on Constitutional Revision (1967-1968), which proposed the new Constitution adopted in 1970, included Powell among its members.
President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Powell to the National Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice (1965-1967). He was a member of the National Advisory Committee on Legal Services to the Poor. President Richard M. Nixon appointed Powell to the Blue Ribbon Defense Panel (1969-1970) which studied the Department of Defense.
On October 21, 1971, President Nixon nominated Powell as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed the appointment on December 7, 1971, and he took office on January 7, 1972. He retired from active service as a Justice on June 26, 1987.
In retirement, Powell kept chambers in the Supreme Court building and summer chambers in Richmond. He sat as an extra judge primarily on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit until 1996.
Justice Powell died August 25, 1998 in his long-time home in Richmond. At the conclusion of an editorial tribute the Washington Post spoke of Powell's "role as a bridge-builder between opposing visions. ... Justice Powell's moderation -- born of principles, not their absence -- has much to teach the federal courts today."
LEWIS F. POWELL, JR ARCHIVES