From the Community, For the Community
The Early Years
Bill understands the experience of the working class in a way many political candidates can’t. His grandparents lost their home in the Blue Ridge Mountains to make way for Shenandoah National Park, and neither of his parents graduated high school. Bill’s father Noah was the longest serving police officer in the Town of Elkton, and his mother Goldie worked in a sewing factory and served on Elkton's Planning Commission.
Based on their experience in the community and their own upbringing during the Great Depression, Bill’s parents knew their children would need two things to succeed in life - a strong work ethic and a good education.
Their children learned there was dignity in all work and no job was beneath them. Bill had his first part time job at age 9 catching fishing worms; he sold them for a penny each to a local gas station. He also collected and redeemed discarded glass pop bottles for two cents each to earn spending money. At age 13 Bill began a series of summer jobs working on farms and in construction.
Bill’s work ethic served him well -- he attended public school in Elkton, excelling in both football and track, and earned a Division 1 athletic scholarship to the College of William and Mary. Though Bill wasn’t as prepared for college as the other students, he was determined to excel. Bill worked hard in his classes, earning admission to the Psi Chi Honor Society with his high GPA, and he excelled athletically, graduating in 1982 as the number 3 all-time discus thrower in William and Mary history.
He earned a Merit Scholarship to the T.C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond. He graduated from law school in 1985 with honors including admission to two prestigious legal honor societies: Order of the Barrister and Moot Court Board.
Bill paid for all his college and law school expenses working jobs during summer and holiday breaks. His sister, Carolyn, earned a Bachelor's Degree from JMU, a Master’s Degree from George Mason University, and a doctorate from Shenandoah University. She also worked full time to pay for her education. It is a testament to the parents Bill and Carolyn were blessed to have that both of their children - born to parents without a high school education - would both earn advanced degrees.
Distinguished Legal Career
Armed with the strong work ethic his parents instilled in him, Bill returned to Harrisonburg in 1985 and began practicing law. He went on to have a distinguished legal career as a trial lawyer representing thousands of people in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.
In addition to distinguishing himself in the courtroom and securing many favorable verdicts for his clients, Bill has been:
Endorsed for a Circuit Court Judgeship, likely the first Democrat in a quarter of a century, earning over two-thirds of the votes of the Harrisonburg/Rockingham Bar Association twice;
Voted one of the top 100 attorneys in the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2015, out of approximately 28,000 attorneys in the state;
Listed by US News and World report on its best lawyers list numerous times;
Recognized as a Super Lawyer for Virginia by his colleagues for many years;
Designated as finalist by Senator Mark Warner for the lifetime appointment to the federal bench in 2010 (read the report);
Voted President of the Harrisonburg/Rockingham County Bar Association by his attorney colleagues.
Service to his Community
While Bill has received numerous legal accolades, the one he cherishes the most was his award from the Blue Ridge Legal Aid Society. Bill was recognized individually for the large volume of free legal services he has provided to the less fortunate in his local community.
Bill has always prioritized giving back to the community. Over the years, Bill has provided free legal services and financial support to rescue squads, organizations who provide food and shelter to less fortunate, community organizations improving their localities, County League and Little league baseball teams, and hunting clubs, to name a few.
Bill also has provided many hours of free legal services to the less fortunate in our community in a less formal way. Many local leaders know that when there is a deserving and acute need for free legal services, Bill stands ready to assist. When federal workers were not getting paid during a government shutdown, Bill quickly put out the word he would provide free legal services for those workers. When floods ravished the Naked Creek area, Bill provided free legal services to the victims of the flood. Many times Bill waives his legal fees for his elderly clients who survive with just a Social Security check, for the military veterans who risked their lives for us, and for police officers and first responders.
Bill also served as President of the Elkton Lions Club, an organization dedicated to helping the less fortunate.
Teaching Criminal Law at JMU
Bill's grandmother had a seventh grade education and worked in the cleaning department of then called Madison College. Bill returned decades later to the rooms his grandmother cleaned to teach criminal law at James Madison University.
Bill strongly believes that a farming background helps to prepare one for elective office. Farming requires fiscal responsibility, willingness to do hard work, the ability to expect the unexpected and be ready to pivot, and most importantly, the strength to make tough decisions. Farming is not for the faint-hearted. Things seldom turn out like you planned and one has little control over many factors (weather, government trade decisions, etc.) that determine your success or failure.
Bill's grandfather on the Helsley side of his family was a farmer in Shenandoah County. Visiting his farm as a youngster sparked Bill's interest in farming. Around 1992 Bill started Helsley Farms, raising Angus influenced cattle for a number of years, and later owned a turkey house that he converted to a chicken house at one of his farms in McGaheysville.
Many people know Bill has a soft spot for animals. His farm has been the home to a number of rescued animals over the years, ranging from dogs and cats to a goat and a donkey.
Pictured to the right is Billy, a goat Bill rescued who went on to become one of the more famous goats in the McGaheysville area, known for his love of Red Man chewing tobacco,hanging out with people, and riding in the farm truck.
Ties to the 26th District
Bill has lived his entire life (except when away at college) in or next to the 26th District. The last 33 years he has lived in McGaheysville. His family has lived in the Shenandoah Valley for a couple centuries.
Bill has practiced law in Harrisonburg, Virginia for the last 36 years and taught at JMU. Bill has served as President of the Harrisonburg/Rockingham Bar Association, President of the Elkton Lions Club, and Chairman on the Rockingham County Democratic Committee.
Thank you to the Community and our fallen Heroes
Bill thanks the many thousands of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County residents for supporting his law practice over the decades and giving him a life he could have never thought possible as a child growing up in Elkton, Virginia.
Most importantly, Bill thanks all those who are forever symbolized and represented by the many thousands of crosses that populate Arlington, the beaches of Normandy, etc., representing someone in our military who gave all so that we may continue to live free, and have the opportunity to run for elected office.