Honorable William R. Byars, Jr. was born February 9, 1945, in Charleston, SC to parents Emma Weeks Byars and Robert Byars. After graduating from Louisiana State University in 1967, he served in the Vietnam War as a Military Intelligence Officer, earning a Bronze Star for his service. He received his law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1972.
He practiced at the law firm of Savage, Royall, Kinard, Sheheen & Byars for 17 years. During this time, he served as the Kershaw County Attorney and was chairman of the Kershaw County School Board. In 1989, he left private practice to accept an appointment as a Family Court judge, retiring in 1999. He then served as director of the Children’s Law Office at USC. In 2003, he was appointed as director of the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) by Governor Mark Sanford. In 2011, he was appointed as director of the Department of Corrections by Governor Nikki Haley and retired in 2013 due to declining health.
Throughout his career, Bill sought to help children in need. His speech, “Through the Eyes of the Child: A New Paradigm,” became the mantra for a nationwide call for legislative reform of child welfare systems, culminating in 1998 in the Adoption and Safe Families Act, for which he was consulted by the White House. For his work on South Carolina child welfare reform, Governor David Beasley awarded him the Order of the Palmetto in 1998. He built a network of competent and like-minded reformers, and together they set about reforming the juvenile justice system through lower-cost, rehabilitation-focused programs, receiving bipartisan praise and recognition in SC media outlets. In 2016, he was honored by the state legislature and the governor with the passing of a bill renaming Section 24-19-5 of the SC Code of Laws to the Judge William R. Byars Youthful Offender Act.
Judge Byars was a life-long reader and scholar and enjoyed playing strategy games and tending to his land and animals. He took great joy in being “Don Guille” to his friends in the Paso Fino world, where he rode his prized horse Cali to win the Paso Fino Grand National Championship. He could also be found riding his tractor for hours, where he did his “best thinking”.
He proudly chose the simple things: jeans and t-shirts, an old Toyota Corolla with zero bells and whistles, hanging with Black Dog on the front porch. He loved to tell long stories in the “Southern tradition,” using real-life events to highlight a greater truth, and always with a punchline. And he smiled. A lot.
The Honorable William R. Byars, Jr. died on November 8, 2019. He is survived by his wife Camille Byars, three sons, Robert Byars (Valerie), Nathan Byars (Amanda), and Rees Byars (Kim), and eight grandchildren, Caroline Byars, Liam Byars, Chloe Byars, Jameson Byars, Chase Byars, Isabella Byars, George Byars and Jack Byars.