Bob Gilliland, a retired partner with McAfee & Taft who spent his entire life in service to others, passed away on Wednesday, February 24, 2021, at the age of 79.
Bob – “Gilly” to his closest friends at the firm – graduated from the University of Oklahoma College of Law in 1966 and, following his admission to the Oklahoma Bar, served four years as a captain in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. While in service to his country, he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal. In 1973, Bob joined McAfee & Taft, where he would spend the next 40 years building his reputation as one of the state’s leading trial lawyers.
No client or matter was too small or too difficult.
“Bob could handle pressure with the best of them,” said Jeff Todd. “My perception was that Bob was never scared — of the opposition or a difficult issue. That is probably because when we were working on the hard part of a case — a tough lawyer or problem — only he could respond with his signature laugh. I thought he was bulletproof.”
Over the course of his distinguished career, Bob frequently took on the most challenging of cases involving high-stakes oil and gas, securities, products liability, environmental, and contract disputes. In one particularly notable case in 1988 that made headlines throughout Oklahoma and the energy industry, he successfully represented an oil and gas exploration and production company as plaintiff in a take-or-pay gas contract lawsuit that resulted in the largest jury award in Oklahoma history at that time.
Bob’s numerous achievements as a trial lawyer earned him perennial inclusion in leading legal publications Oklahoma Super Lawyers and The Best Lawyers in America. And while he was best known in the legal community for his incredible trial skills as a bet-the-company lawyer, his McAfee & Taft colleagues remember the qualities and traits that made him such a good lawyer – his enviable ability to relate to everyone, his authentic personality, and his devotion to his clients, colleagues and craft.
His personality was endearing to juries as well as clients and colleagues. When assigned to a case with Bob early on in his career, managing director Mike Lauderdale had the opportunity to witness his unique combination of skills and personality in action, and he was amazed. “It was a workers’ compensation retaliation case, and Bob took it to trial and obtained a defense verdict. He had the jury eating out of his hand with his ‘aw shucks’ personality and trial skills.”
That trial was memorable for other reasons as well, not the least of which was that it happened in an Oklahoma County courtroom in April 1995.
“Thanks to plaintiff’s counsel, the trial was dragging on longer than our judge thought it should,” said Myrna Latham. “So Judge Freeman directed us to get an early start the morning of April 19, 1995. As a result, at 9:02 a.m., I was standing by the counsel table, which was by a window, stating my objection to a question that had been asked by plaintiff’s counsel. What happened next is a bit of a blur, but I have a distinct memory of someone trying to shield me and get me to shelter under the counsel table. The tape recording of our court reporter’s transcript was one of the many pieces of evidence gathered from that day. Most of us had no idea then what we had heard and felt – but Bob was a Vietnam vet, and he knew. And his first reaction was to protect me. And I will never forget that.”
For many, Bob was known as a mentor who generously gave younger attorneys an opportunity to not only learn from him, but to also take on large responsibility early on in their careers – a quality that has been a hallmark of the firm.
Myrna Latham also remembers Bob giving her the opportunity to serve on his team in the landmark 1988 take-or-pay case.
“I will always be grateful for the opportunity to observe and learn from Bob,” said Myrna. “He was an excellent trial lawyer, and he also was a wonderful mentor. For reasons that I will never fully understand, Bob entrusted me with taking the deposition of one of the key executives. I remember getting very little sleep the night before, as I labored over my script of probing questions – hoping and praying that I might someday be a ‘natural’ at taking depositions, like Bob.”
Bob was also a natural when it came to working with clients – a quality that left a deep impression on those who worked with him and were influenced by his genuine, approachable style.
“Bob had a tremendous way with clients,” said Jeff Todd. “He would ingratiate himself with them. They loved him. They trusted his judgment. They trusted his devotion to them. And, they trusted his ability to get the job done.”
To his closest friends at the firm, many of whom were fellow veterans, “Gilly” was a great partner whose friendship extended far outside the office and included regular visits to BBQ joints for lunch, attending OU football games together, and even a once-in-a-lifetime trip to England and France to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of D-Day together. Eager to impress his firm friends with his ability to speak French, which he learned while earning his undergraduate degree at Texas Christian University, after several glasses of fine French wine, he confidently offered to serve as translator for the group while touring France. Within an hour after setting foot on French soil, and after having resorted to sign language and broken English with French accent and humbly admitting that his command of the French language was not what it had once been decades before, Gilly was unceremoniously fired by his friends.
Wherever Bob went, good times were sure to follow. “The comradery that Bob had with not only his peer group but also all of his colleagues (younger and older) at the firm was unmatched,” said Jeff Todd. “The fun that Bob had with his pals around the firm was so amazing to watch and a great example of how McAfee & Taft lawyers can be the best of friends and unconditional allies. Bob certainly made the 9th floor a fun place to practice law, and I’m glad to be able to say that part of him carries on with all of us who practiced with and learned from him.”
After retiring from McAfee & Taft in 2013, Bob continued to lead and to serve, first as an appointed commissioner on the Oklahoma Workers Compensation Commission from 2013 – 2017 and later as an appointed member of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board from 2019 – 2020. Retired Judge Allen McCall, who served with Bob on the Pardon and Parole Board, said he considered him a “born leader and a true patriot.”
Bob is survived by his wife Ann, son David and daughter Virginia and their families, and countless family members, colleagues and friends. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Carol, who died in 2006.
“Above all, Bob was a loyal and devoted friend and a person with whom I laughed every time we were together,” said Dee Replogle. “He was a superb trial lawyer, but more importantly, a devoted Christian, father, husband, and friend. He brought out the very best in his family members and circle of friends, and all of them would testify he made their lives better and more enjoyable. He was, quite simply, unforgettable, and even though we know we will see him again, in the interim he will be greatly missed. So rather than “goodbye,” I’ll just say, “thank you, Bob, and safe journeys.”
View the Oklahoma County Bar Association’s In Memoriam (PDF)