University of Denver

IAALS Advances Justice with Dr. Walter L. Sutton, Jr.

Founding Executive Director

IAALS simply would not be what it is without the support of our partners and friends. They are essential to our efforts and hail from a wide range of backgrounds, viewpoints, and sectors. Every month, IAALS will shine the spotlight on one such person and take you behind the scenes for a lighthearted glimpse into those upon whose guidance and support we rely. Together we are advancing justice.

Walter L. Sutton, Associate General Counsel (Ret.), Wal-mart Stores, Inc.

Walter is a man of many accomplishments, many firsts, many awards—none of which he ever mentions. Just to give a "flavor" (notice the food theme throughout) of some of them: graduation from high school at 16; first African American to become Student Body Vice President at the University of Denver; first African American to work for Tenneco Oil’s legal department and for Texas Instruments in Dallas, first to receive a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Dallas, first to head up the Environmental Protection Agency in Dallas; deputy Federal Highway Administrator in the Clinton administration and manager of Walmart’s Legal Department diversity initiatives. He has opened doors, opened minds, and led an extraordinarily distinguished career, including being President of the National Bar Association.

We at IAALS have been blessed to have the benefit of Walter’s insights, practical course-corrections, and wise direction—not to mention his good nature, huge smile, and warmth. Everyone at IAALS loves Walter—loves working with him, reaching out to him, and benefitting from his suggestions.

There was a period of time when he was on the Board and simultaneously commuting around the country and the world for his work. As he walked into the room for the Board meeting, he would palpably change gears—and focus on us. He transitions off our Board this summer, and we will miss him deeply. Thank you, Walter!

Earlier this month, we caught up with Walter to bring you March’s Partner Profile.

Who is your favorite musician? Old school—Aretha Franklin and Luther Vandross. Modern dayAdele and John Legend.

What talent would you most like to have? I’ve played the saxophone since the 8th grade and played in a high school band, but I’d love to be able to play the piano.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? I have a strong passion for higher education. My parents were educators. My father taught at Wiley College where I now Chair the Board of Trustees. In addition to my J.D., I have a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Dallas (and was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from UTD in 1989). Technically, I’m retired, but I love working with students so am currently teaching business law and next semester will teach legal aspects of international business transactions to MBA students at UTD.

My greatest professional achievement was working for President Bill Clinton as Deputy Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration in the U.S. Department of Transportation. I traveled around the world representing President Clinton at meetings with heads of state to talk about their country’s infrastructure. We had a $60 million annual budget, 3,000 employees, and were responsible for funding the construction and maintenance of the nation’s interstate highway system.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? It’s not about money; money does not buy happiness. If you have the love and support of your family and friends, you will be happy. I love to cook for them and I cook every day. My meatloaf is a crowd pleaser and one of my favorite and most requested dishes to make.

What is your most marked characteristic? My Type-A personality. I do everything in a certain order and the same way every time. I’m also known for operating on timelines. I figure out when something needs to be accomplished and then back into it whether that’s an airport run I’m about to make or a lecture I’m about to give. I want my food to come out of the oven warm, so I time things so that every dish is ready to be served together.

What is it about IAALS that inspires your involvement and support? I’ve been a big supporter of IAALS since joining the board in 2010. IAALS has the ability to be objective as it explores challenges to our legal system. IAALS has no hidden agenda, and thus no preconceived ideas of recommended changes. Rather, IAALS offers innovative, out-of-the box thinking by great minds who look at issues from many perspectives and then charts the best course.

When I was at Walmart, I was able to direct $100,000 to help IAALS get its footing and felt it was one of the best investments Walmart could have made. When I collaborate with other groups, the ABA, the American Bar Foundation, or the National Judicial College for example, everyone always comments on what a great organization IAALS is and what important work it does. I’m happy to be a part of IAALS because we’ve had an impact and we’ve made a difference.