Amazon Prime Video’s biographical film ‘The Burial’ depicts Willie E. Gary’s rise to become one of the wealthiest and most prominent trial lawyers in the country. In the movie, Willie teams up with Mississippi funeral home operator Jeremiah Joseph O’Keefe to sue the Loewen Group, a large funeral home company, over a contract dispute. The movie opens a window to Willie’s life and achievements while focusing on his relationship with O’Keefe and their case against the funeral company. Naturally, the viewers must be intrigued about Willie’s life and career as a trial lawyer. If that’s the case, here’s everything you need to know about him, including his current whereabouts!
The Son of a Sharecropper
Willie Gary was born on July 12, 1947, in Eastman, Georgia, as the son of sharecropper Turner and Mary Gary. During his childhood, he was raised in migrant farming communities in Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas. Willie attended the renowned Shaw University on a football scholarship before joining North Carolina Central University School of Law, where he studied and received his Juris Doctor degree. After earning the degree, he returned to Florida with his wife Gloria and got admitted to the Florida Bar in 1974, which led him to open a law firm.
Willie and O’Keefe
To borrow the words of the character Hal Dockins from ‘The Burial,’ Jeremiah J. O’Keefe, Sr. Vs Loewen Group, Inc. made Willie a renowned lawyer nationally. In 1995, Willie filed a suit on behalf of O’Keefe against the Loewen Group’s Raymond “Ray” Loewen after the latter reneged on a contractual agreement. Willie led O’Keefe’s case to a victory, which led the jury to award his client $500 million in damages from the Loewen Group. The case was, however, settled for $175 million. Willie gained not only fame but also a considerable sum by winning the case.
“He [Willie] received twelve and a half million dollars of the cash portion of the settlement, and three hundred and seventy-five thousand shares of stock, as well as his percentage of an eighty-million-dollar non-interest bearing note,” Jonathan Harr wrote in his The New Yorker article, which serves as the source text of the film. Even after the case, O’Keefe and Willie maintained a warm relationship. “O’Keefe feels great affection for Willie Gary. After the trial, they saw each other often, on occasions both formal and informal. When Annette O’Keefe died, in 1998, at seventy-four, of heart failure, Gary attended her funeral,” Harr added.
“The Giant Killer”
Throughout his career, Willie Gary has fought legal battles against several mammoth companies and establishments, including The Walt Disney Co. Willie won a $240 million case against Disney for an architect and a former baseball umpire who sued the company for allegedly stealing their concept for establishing ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. “Justice caught up with Disney,” said Willie in August 2000 after the verdict in the case. He also battled Anheuser-Busch, one of the largest brewers in the country, for the family of Roger Maris, a famed baseball icon. The case ended with a $50 million breach-of-contract verdict in favor of Willie’s client.
Willie is currently a partner of the law firm Gary, Williams, Parenti, Watson, Gary & Gillespie, PLLC, based in Stuart, Florida. Through his firm, he continues to remain an integral figure in the world of law. Willie is one of the recipients of the 2023 Joseph R. Biden Lifetime Achievement Award, along with the Presidential Volunteer Service. He is also an eminent speaker who regularly interacts with several sections of today’s society. In addition to being a member of the National Bar Association, the American Bar Association, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, etc., he serves as a board member of several educational institutions and foundations.
Willie currently lives in Stuart, Florida, with his wife Gloria, and four children: Kenneth, Sekou, Kobe, and Ali. Kenneth is the president and the CEO of The Gary Foundation and the family’s real estate firm Gary Enterprises. Sekou and Kobie are also in the law field, while Ali serves as the vice president of the Gary Foundation after earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. As part of the production of ‘The Burial,’ Willie met Jamie Foxx, who plays the lawyer in the film, and they share the screen in the mid-credits scene of the movie.
“I thought I was on the moon. It was really amazing just to be with Jamie, the crowd, and bright lights, and all the surroundings. […] Jamie Foxx is without a doubt, one of the best in the business,” Willie said about collaborating with Foxx in an interview given to Treasure Coast Newspapers.