Hon. William Jay Riley

Hon. William Jay Riley

March 11, 1947 – January 27, 2023

VISITATION: Friday, February 3rd, 5-7pm, at West Center Chapel. SERVICE: Saturday, February 4th, 11am, at St. Luke United Methodist Church, 11810 Burke St.

Interment: Wyuka Cemetery, Lincoln, Nebraska.

In lieu of flowers, the family respectfully requests donations to the Rocky Mountain Conservancy (https://rmconservancy.org/join-or-give/), Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org), or a charity of your choice.

To view a live broadcast of the service, go to www.heafeyheafey.com and click the “View Live Cast” button.

William Jay Riley was born March 11, 1947, in Lincoln, Nebraska, and entered into rest at 9:37pm on Friday, January 27, 2023. Preceded in death by his parents, Donald and Marian Riley, and his oldest son, Brian Riley. Survived by wife, Norma Riley; children, Kevin Riley and Erin (Rich) Hoffman; daughter-in-law Brenda Riley; grandchildren: Michael (Courtney) Riley, Jacob Riley, Elizabeth, Benjamin, Brandon, and Katherine Hoffman, Heather and Tabitha Whitehill, and Makenzie Allen.  

He married Norma Mason more than 57 years ago in a love story for the ages. They had three children: Brian Riley, Kevin Riley, and Erin Hoffman. He was father-in-law to Brenda Riley and Rich Hoffman and a proud grandfather to 9 grandchildren: Michael Riley, Jacob Riley, Elizabeth Hoffman, Ben Hoffman, Brandon Hoffman, Katherine Hoffman, Heather Whitehill, Tabitha Whitehill, and Makenzie Allen. And just last year, he was thrilled to meet his first great-grandchild, Bailee Jean Riley. 

After a highly successful academic and athletic career, he graduated from Lincoln High School later to be inducted into their alumni hall of fame for his career achievements. He attended the University of Nebraska to earn his undergraduate and his law degree, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Order of the Coif and was editor-in-chief of the Nebraska Law Review.

Following law school, he clerked for Judge Donald P. Lay of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit from 1972 to 1973. William then began a 28-year career as a premier civil trial attorney with Fitzgerald, Schorr, Barmettler & Brennan in Omaha, where he was a shareholder and headed the firm’s trial department.

In 1980, William was asked to take over as Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 444. He said he would do it for one year so they could find someone else. 10 years later and 25+ Eagle Scouts later, he retired as Scoutmaster with a vast amount of stories and memories. Late in life, he would comment that these were some of the best times of his life. After retiring, he would serve as Chairman of the Mid-American Council for 3 years.   

In 2001, he was nominated by President George W. Bush to succeed Judge C. Arlen Beam on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. He was unanimously confirmed by the Senate two months later and received his commission on August 3, 2001. He served as Chief Judge of the Eighth Circuit from April 1, 2010, until March 10, 2017, and assumed senior status on June 30, 2017.

Judge Riley was a fellow and past state chair with the American College of Trial Lawyers, a member and former state president of the American Board of Trial Advocates, and a counselor and charter member of the Robert M. Spire Inns of Court. He was a former president and executive council member of the Omaha Bar Association, House Delegate and former Ethics Committee chair with the Nebraska State Bar Association, and chair of the Federal Practice Committee for Nebraska. He was Board Certified in Civil Trial Advocacy by the National Board of Trial Advocacy and has been an adjunct professor in trial practice at Creighton University School of Law and in trial advocacy at the University of Nebraska College of Law.

After assuming senior status, William enjoyed his retirement by taking long walks (and big meals) with the Grazers International Hiking Club, watching his grandchildren’s activities, and traveling with Norma. He was a fervent and ever-hopeful fan of the Nebraska Cornhuskers and attended most home games. And until the cancer arrived, he could be found hiking up mountains and forging through streams, often singing all the way or bicycling around Omaha unless hindered by a bike-related injury. A consummate storyteller with a kernel of truth and a lot of embellishments made for grand entertainment around any gathering or campfire. Most of all, he enjoyed spending time with family, friends, and anyone who wanted a tour.


  • Sadie Bohnenkamp Posted January 30, 2023 2:45 pm

    Over and over I’ve heard of your dad’s big personality and love. What a delightful, charming, intelligent and generous man. His legacy will be bigger than that as all these traits are embodied in you and your children. In this time of grief, I pray you find peace in how much and how well he loved you. I see you loving others this same way every day. Love you so much friend!

  • Jason W Grams Posted January 30, 2023 2:53 pm

    Judge Riley was a great and good man who will be missed by many. He was a major force in my life, and in the lives of the countless judges, lawyers, law clerks, friends, and family members he touched. Whether we knew him as Bill, Chief, or Pawee, we knew him to be a sincere source of kindness and good in this world, My most sincere condolences to Norma, Kevin, Erin, Brenda, Rich & his grandchildren. -Jason

  • April Oristano Posted January 30, 2023 3:19 pm

    Erin, Kevin, Norma, and to the entire Riley family, please receive my prayers, my love, and my care. Memories of great joy come to mind as I remember Bill. He was a dad to all of us. May there be peace. Love to you all.

  • Connie Wichman Posted January 30, 2023 4:43 pm

    Norma, Erin, Kevin and all the family. You are in our hearts and prayers. Bill was such a good person and he will be remembered and missed by all who knew him.

  • Kristi Rasgorshek Posted January 30, 2023 4:49 pm

    To Erin and the full Riley family, please accept my condolences. My heart and prayers are with you at this difficult time. I have so many fond memories of your dad and your entire family. Love to all of you.

  • Angélica Durán Posted January 31, 2023 5:49 am

    Dear Riley Family, from afar I send you my most sincere condolences full of love and precious memories of Dad. His passage through this earth was undoubtedly a great example for many of us who share with him the simplest things in life. I thank heaven for having met him. I love you forever.

  • David Johnwon Posted January 31, 2023 9:31 am

    Deepest condolences to the Riley family and the Omaha Legal community. Judge Riley was my trial seminar teacher at Creighton Law. He helped me hone skills that I would later use in trial practice and appellate work. He had a great smile, was always welcoming and would take the time to ask and hear how I was doing even after he became the esteemed Judge Riley. Deepest condolences to the Riley family. – Dave

  • Richard sievers Posted January 31, 2023 9:39 am

    Bill was a great classmate from the special UNL law school class of 1972. Bill was a great judge and person, He was always friendly, humble, and gracious. I am so glad I got to see him last fall at our 50th law school class reunion.Gone too soon.

  • James Snowden Posted January 31, 2023 9:42 am

    Deepest sympathies. Bill’s passing is a loss for the State of Nebraska and the country.

  • Lindsy Doucette Posted January 31, 2023 10:07 am

    I knew Judge Riley through law school as a professor and Inns of Court as a mentor. He was tough but fair and I always enjoyed his stories. I am sad to learn of his passing and am sending love to the Riley family from afar.

  • Sam King Posted January 31, 2023 10:08 am

    So sad to hear about the passing of Judge Riley. What a wonderful man he was. I had the privilege of having him as a teacher, as opposing counsel in a few lawsuits, and as a Judge presiding over a few of my cases. In each instance I learned something from him about how to be a better attorney and a really even a better person. I know I’m not the only one. My prayers and condolences to Judge Riley’s family. He will be missed.

  • Richard D. Sievers Posted January 31, 2023 11:06 am

    Bill was an outstanding judge and person, and law school classmate. Over the years since our graduation in 1972, he was always.engaging, gracious, humble and fun to talk with whenever our paths crossed. I am very glad that I got to see him and catch up on our lives at our 50th law school reunion. He appeared the picture of health, so his death was a shock. My thoughts are with his family at this painful time. He will be missed by many. A very good man gone too soon..

  • Kris Brenneis Posted January 31, 2023 11:21 am

    Riley family,
    I worked for Judge Beam for the entirety of the time Judge Riley was on the court. I remember he had the room in stitches during his swearing in ceremony with his self deprecating humor. He “revolutionized” the annual Court dinners by switching them from drawn out banquet room affairs to — eating a buffet and going to a Cardinals baseball game. Literally brilliant. He (and his staff, especially Kris Schneiss with the breakfast spread!) was always so respectful and kind to Judge Beam and his staff when we were in Omaha for court week. He even incorporated one of my many faux pas into the new 8th Circuit law clerk orientation speech: (Ladies and gentlemen, don’t leave your court file in the airport bar…) So many memories, all of them good. A life well and fully lived, but gone too soon. He will not soon be forgotten, though. My deepest condolences to all of his loved ones, which I know includes his former staff.
    Kris Brenneis

  • Michael Leahy Posted January 31, 2023 11:44 am

    Thirty years ago, Judge Riley was among my first mentors in the practice of law. Possessing both a brilliant mind and a gentle soul, Bill represented the very best of our profession. Though the pace of practicing law quickens with each passing year, I often reflect upon the lessons he imparted and the example he showed, even more so after he was elevated to the Circuit Court bench in 2001. Thank you, Bill — I will miss you. And always remember.

  • Terrance Micek Posted January 31, 2023 3:17 pm

    A friend during law school.

  • Larry Dietrich Posted January 31, 2023 3:34 pm

    Norma, Erin, Kevin, just wanted you to know that we will always remember the great times we had growing up. Although years passed quickly and we were out of touch, I am so thankful that I reached out to him at our last reunion and surprised all of our Lincoln High buddies with his presence at our gathering in our home. Since that time he continued to come to many lunch get togethers and we heard many of his stories. I’m glad we had that together. Our thoughts and prayers go to Norma and the entire family.
    Larry & Bev Dietrich

  • D. Steven and Sandra Leininger Posted January 31, 2023 4:22 pm


    Sandy and I are truly saddened and shocked by the announcement of Bill’s passing. Bill was always the perfect gentleman, who met you with that great smile and the warmness of a long time friend. We always enjoyed seeing you and Bill at Judge Lay’s law clerk reunions . Our condolences to you and your family.

    Steve and Sandy Leininger

  • Duke Drouillard Posted January 31, 2023 9:56 pm

    Bill was such a wonderful man, master lawyer, and great judge. He had an endless supply of entertaining stories that frequently had a bit of self deprecation intertwined, sometimes attributed to comments he claimed were made by his wife, Norma, to keep him humble. I once introduced him at a conference as “the nicest man I have ever met with some of the best stories you will ever hear”. That is how I will always remember him.

  • John H. Moseman Posted February 1, 2023 12:09 pm

    Our condolences to Bill’s family and friends. He was an inspirational classmate as a member of our Law College class of 1972, and thereafter served his clients and our nation with great distinction.

  • Jill Jensen Posted February 1, 2023 7:02 pm

    Erin, you spoke so highly of your dad and mom. It only took meeting him once to see why and to see why you are such an amazing person yourself. Wow, he was such a smart, caring, and funny guy. It was so sweet of him to show us around his office that day. You could tell how much he loved his family and how proud he was from seeing pictures in his office and hearing his stories of you and your family. I am sincerely sorry for your loss. I hope you find some comfort reminiscing of all the wonderful memories you have with him. Prayers for you and your family.

  • Andrew Kluver Posted February 2, 2023 9:53 am

    I can still see his big smile and hear him singing “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” to wake up all the tired Scouts on our backpacking trips with 444. He was a great man.

  • Kent Radke Posted February 2, 2023 2:42 pm

    Bill and I went to Lincoln High School together. from 1962-65. We were both on the LHS reserve football team our Sophomore years. Bill was a great quarterback and as I recall our team won 5 out of 6 games, with the only loss being to Boys Town. Bill played a big role in every game. Unfortunately Bill wasn’t able to continue his football career after his sophomore year. Our team missed his talents.. Bill was 2 years ahead of me in Law School and I followed his career with great admiration. He will be missed.

    Norma, my condolences to you and your family.

  • William Acosta-Trejo Posted February 3, 2023 4:33 pm

    My sympathies go out to the family. Judge Riley was not only a great judge and mentor but just a warm and wonderful human being. I appreciated all the time that he always made for me and all the chats that we had about anything and everything. He was one of a kind and he will be missed.

  • Deborah Minter (Cliff) Posted February 4, 2023 2:14 pm

    My condolences to the family. What a legacy Bill left. God bless you all.

  • Tracy Hales Valentine Posted February 4, 2023 11:06 pm

    Mildred the Cow – Bill was a tease who could make even a quiet, shy girl feel comfortable and laugh around him! I’ve truly been blessed to know him. Much love to you Erin and Kevin and all of your family. Love, Spacey Tracy

  • John Simmons Posted February 6, 2023 12:45 pm

    I feel terrible about this. We were law school classmates and fraternity brothers before that. I first met him at a fraternity football game–fifty-seven years ago. The outstanding high school quarterback threw me a pass which somehow I caught before falling into a fence and ripping the shirt I was wearing in the hopes of impressing people. Oh well. It’s odd the things that stick in one’s memory. I liked him right away…that’s the person he was. Our lives went in different directions and I didn’t see him a great deal after school, but that doesn’t matter. Friendships are forever. We are lucky we had him as long as we did. Well done, good servant. RIP

  • Bruce McKeag Posted February 7, 2023 10:32 am

    Norma and family—our sympathies to you in the loss of Bill. He and I were fraternity brothers at UNL, and while I was a year older—I am blessed to have known him. When Bill retired as a Federal judge, I called him to seek his permission to include a “retirement story” in our chapter newsletter. We had a meaningful 15-minute chat, and he was very gracious in our conversation. Bill made an impact on the lives of many, and our prayers for all of his family remain.

  • K G Dilocker Posted February 10, 2023 2:58 pm

    In tribute to a great man and in celebration of his wonderful life, I enjoyed Bill as my supervising attorney for seven years; one who was a great teacher, but also one that made work fun. I am so sorry for Norma and family to have lost him. May your loving memories sustain you.

  • Tony and Sarah Fink Posted February 15, 2023 5:54 pm

    Norma, Kevin, Erin and family,
    We are grieving along with you and wanted to be there for the funeral but just couldn’t make it work. You knew him as a husband, father, grandfather, the honorable judge….. and so many more titles that he held over the years. We knew him as Bill, a good friend. I have some stories to share some time when you are in EP. Please let us know if you will be there this summer. Love to all and a special hug to Norma.

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