Retired Post-Intelligencer editor and publisher and long-time community service advocate William Bryant “Bill” Williams Jr., 85, died Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, at AHC Paris.
He battled Parkinson’s disease and Lewy Body dementia for three years before suffering a massive stroke Wednesday.
Visitation will be 3-6 p.m. Saturday and 1-3 p.m. Sunday, and the funeral service at 3 p.m. Sunday, all at Paris’ First Presbyterian Church, where he served as an elder for 52 years.
Honorary pallbearers will include past and present employees of The Post-Intelligencer and members of the Paris Optimist Club, where he’d been a member since about a month after it was chartered more than 58 years ago.
His body will be cremated, with the ashes later interred in the family plot at Maplewood Cemetery. McEvoy Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the church, 105 S. Market St., Paris.
Born Aug. 20, 1934 to W. Bryant and Julia Williams of Paris, he is survived by his wife of 63 years, the former Anne Corbett. The couple married on June 21, 1956, at First Christian Church in Paris.
Other survivors include three daughters: Cindy Barnett of Murray, Julie (Doug) Ray of Gainesville, Fla., and Joan (Skip) Howe of Paris; a son: Michael (Evonne) Williams of Paris; 14 grandchildren: Jeremy (Corrie) Maxwell of Franklin, Laura Barnett of Australia, Leah (Matt) McCool of Northport, Ala., Daniel (Jordan) Williams of Paris, Anne Barnett of Nashville, Katie Williams of Paris, Ashley (David Merahn) Ray of Gainesville, Matthew (Sarah) Williams of Paris, Jessica Stevens of Paris, Erin Stevens of Orlando, Fla., Adam (fiance Gina) Ray of Tallahassee, Fla., Audrey Ray of Gainesville, and Rebekah and Elizabeth Allen, both of Gainesville; and eight great-grandchildren and another on the way.
Williams began his newspaper career as a P-I carrier while a student at Atkins-Porter and Grove High Schools.
During his high school years, he worked as a reporter after school, on Saturdays and during the summers. After graduating third in his class at Grove High School in 1952, Williams went on to graduate with honors as a journalism and ROTC student at Murray State University.
During his summers, Williams continued to be a P-I reporter. Throughout his college years, Williams was also a member of the college newspaper staff and was named the outstanding journalism student during his senior year.
After graduating from college, he was a reporter for The Memphis Press-Scimitar for a brief period before entering the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant.
He was stationed at Fort Sill, Okla., and served as a forward observer in an artillery unit, and helped work out the logistics of transporting howitzers by helicopter. He then served seven years in active reserve.
EDITOR & PUBLISHER
Later, he worked for The Tullahoma News for three years before he returned to Paris in 1960 as The P-I’s news editor. He spent the next 39 years working his way up to editor, then editor and publisher, finally retiring as publisher in late 1999. However, he continued to write editorials until late 2016.
He became editor and publisher at the retirement of his father, the late Bryant Williams. Bryant in turn had taken over as publisher at the retirement in 1967 of his father, the late W. Percy Williams, who had come from Alabama to purchase The P-I in 1927.
One of the things Bill Williams said he enjoyed about his work was that at the end of each day, he was able to hold a paper in his hands and say, “Here’s what we did today.”
“It’s also a joy to hear from people who used to work here and have gone on to do well in the newspaper business or elsewhere, and hear them speak fondly of their time at The P-I,” Williams said. “You feel like you had a small part to play in making someone’s life a little more complete.”
A GOOD CITIZEN
Williams was very proud of the newspaper, once saying, “I’ve tried to see that it’s been a good citizen of our community.”
He was a good citizen as well, and was an active leader in many clubs and civic organizations in Paris and Henry County.
A longtime member and Sunday school teacher of First Presbyterian, he was a driving force behind numerous charitable and civic efforts throughout his life.
Williams was one of the nine men active in the annual March of Dimes radio auction who met in 1978 out of concern that so much of the money raised went outside the county.
The group proposed carrying forward with an all-local organization, with the then-temporary name Henry County Helping Hand, that would expand on the March of Dimes auction, but with the stipulation that the funds be used only to benefit local charities and nonprofits.
In 1994, he was part of the group that helped organize a unit of Habitat for Humanity in Paris. By 1996, Henry County’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity was building its first house. He was still climbing on Habitat house roofs when he was 80.
A lifelong advocate of literacy, Williams helped create and served as the first president of the Henry County Literacy Council.
He came up with the idea for the World’s Biggest Fish Fry’s Catfish Races, the council’s annual fundraiser, after reading about a similar event in Mississippi.
In 1992, he was awarded a Sequoyah Award from the Tennessee Historical Commission for his local and state contributions to the cause of literacy education.
He also served on the Tennessee Press Association’s Literacy Committee, and was a member of the Literacy Committee of Southern Newspaper Publishers Association.
Williams played an active role in the preservation of local history, including service as executive director of the Paris-Henry County Heritage Center.
He was recognized for his contributions to the center and its board of directors during the 2017 Autumn Honors Gala.
A past president of the Paris Optimist Club, he was a vital part of the Optimist Buddy Program.
He was also a member of the Henry County Food and Shelter Committee, and one of the organizers of the local Lifeline Blood Program.
An Eagle Scout, he remained active in Boy Scouts for more than 40 years, earning its highest award for adult leaders, the Silver Beaver Award.
Active in his church all his life, Williams sang in the choir, directed the choir, served as deacon, then elder, and served in the church’s upper echelons, including the Presbytery of West Tennessee, Synod of the South, the church’s national General Assembly and Living Waters for the World.
HALL OF FAME
Williams won numerous accolades during his career as a journalist.
In 2013, he became a charter inductee of the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame at Murfreesboro, joining Chris Clark, Anne Holt, Dan Miller, John Seigenthaler and Dean Stone.
He wrote a number of award-winning editorials for The P-I, receiving first-place Tennessee State Press Association awards in the editorials category in 1983 and 1984, and in the Best Single Editorial Category in 1985, 1998, 2002 and 2005.
A 125th anniversary edition of The P-I won first place for Best Promotion of Newspapers in 1992.
Williams served as president of the TPA from 1982-83.
He was also a former president of the Tennessee Associated Press Managing Editors and former president of United Press International’s Tennessee Association of Newspapers.