William E. Powers was born in Cumberland, Rhode Island on December 18, 1907. He attended St. Patrick Parochial School, Perkins Institute for the Blind, and Boston University Law School. His blindness, the result of an accident at his home in 1927, did not deter him from active service to his state as Cumberland probate judge, representative, the state attorney general, and associate justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. He and his wife, Olive (Higgins) Powers had three children: Esther M, Barbara A., and Michael A.
William Powers became a member of the Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Federal Bar, and was appointed probate judge in Cumberland from 1936 until January 1949. He served as state representative from Cumberland five terms from 1939 to 1948 and was elected Attorney General on November 2, 1948. Reelected in 1952, 1954, and 1956, he stepped down in 1958 to accept a position as associate justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, where he served until his retirement in 1973. At that point, he became a delegate to the highly productive 1973 Constitutional Convention and presided over that body as president with the assistance of Convention secretary Dr. Patrick Conley.
His commitment on behalf of the blind and the disabled is exemplified by his directorship of the National Council to Combat Blindness, and in 1954, by the recognition accorded him by President Eisenhower committee on employment of physically handicapped people.
Inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1977, he lived actively for another twelve years before his death in 1989 at the age of eighty-one. The state administration building on Capitol Hill is named in his honor.
Debra A. Mulligan