Steakley was born in Rotan, Texas, near Sweetwater. He graduated as valedictorian from DeLeon High School in 1926, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Simmons University (now Hardin-Simmons University) in Abilene in 1929. He excelled as a baseball player, and after college he declined a professional baseball contract to attend law school. He earned an LL.B. from The University of Texas School of Law in 1932.
After finishing law school, Steakley practiced law in Sweetwater from 1932 to 1939 and also assisted his father, Zollie Steakley, Sr., in his Chevrolet dealership. Steakley married Leonna Ruth Butler, a Sweetwater native, in 1939 and moved with his new bride to Austin where he was assistant attorney general under Gerald Mann for the next three years. He joined the U.S. Navy during World War II, serving from 1942 to 1945 in naval intelligence and earning the rank of lieutenant commander.
Following the war, Steakley returned to Austin and served as assistant attorney general under Grover Sellers from 1945 to 1946. He then went into law practice in Austin from 1946 to 1957, when Gov. Price Daniel appointed him secretary of state.
Steakley joined the Texas Supreme Court in 1961 when Gov. Daniel appointed him an associate justice to fill the vacancy created when Robert Calvert became chief justice. Steakley was subsequently elected to the position in November 1962 and reelected in 1968 and 1974. He retired from the court in January 1981. During his tenure he authored an estimated 200 major opinions and was an authority in many areas of law. Although Steakley never sought or achieved the fame and notoriety of other Texas politicians, he was widely respected among the Texas ruling elite in his over 40 years of public service. When referring to him, President Lyndon Johnson described Steakley as an "orator and advocate without peer". Steakley taught a radio Bible class for forty-two years that reached a large audience in central and east Texas, and was regularly attended by Texas Governors and other prominent politicians.
Following his retirement from the bench Steakley served as special assistant to attorney general Mark White. When White was elected governor, Steakley became a special assistant in the governor's office of general counsel. He also assisted attorneys general Jim Mattox and Dan Morales. He served on the board of trustees of Hardin-Simmons University, his alma mater, for eighteen years. Steakley died in Austin at the age of eighty-three.
- In Memoriam: Honorable Zollie Steakley. The Supreme Court of Texas, June 11, 1993. 879 S.W.2d XXXIX-XLIII (1993).
- Zollie Coffer Steakley, Jr. & Leona Ruth Butler: First 100 Years in Nolan County Texas (1985) (accessed October 6, 2006). http://www.rootsweb.com/~txnolan/nolan_co100yr/steakley_zollie_coffer.htm
- Zollie Coffer Steakley, 25:42 Forty Acres Facts: The Faculty and Staff Newsletter for Hardin –Simmons University, June 23, 2003, 1 & 3 (accessed October 6, 2006). http://web.archive.org/web/20060901185633/http://www.hsutx.edu/news/archive/20030623.pdf
|Secretary of State of Texas
P. Frank Lake
Robert W. Calvert
|Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, Place 3
James P. Wallace