Storied Atlanta journalist Dick Williams died Thursday from congestive heart failure. He was 77.
He worked for TV broadcasters around the country, including some of the national giants, before settling into Atlanta. Here, he was a three-medium threat. He worked for newspapers at The Atlanta Journal and later ran a small newspaper, and he did political radio. But the weekly televised news talk show “The Georgia Gang,” which began as the “Sunday News Conference” in the early 1980s on WSB-TV, was his pride and joy.
Credit: AJC file
Credit: AJC file
Over 36 years, Williams taped more than 1,700 episodes, starting in the early 1980s when Atlanta children were going missing and murdered. Over the years, he parsed every major Atlanta City Hall scandal, pontificated on the tenures of six city mayors, assessed the Olympics arrival and legacy, picked apart downtown development and watched Georgia’s political winds shift. It continues to be broadcast, but he retired in 2019.
Williams told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution then: “I’m proud that this program stayed on the air 36 years. That’s pretty remarkable. I’m always gratified by the sheer number of people who watch the show and engage in it across all walks of life and income levels. It’s amazing.”
“He was an affable guy and also incredibly prolific,” said Jeff Dickerson, who worked for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the 1980s and 1990s and was a “Georgia Gang” panelist.
“He’d start a column at 10:02 a.m. and have it ready at 10:17 a.m. He was amazingly fast. At one point, he was writing three, four columns a week as well as a bunch of unsigned editorials.”
The conservative Williams co-hosted a radio show with liberal Tom Houck in the 1980s.
“He was a die-hard Reagan conservative back then,” said Houck, who also was part of “The Georgia Gang.” At the same time, Houck said he and Williams loved covering election nights on the radio. “We’d set aside ideology for a night and focus on who’s winning and who’s losing,” he said.
Williams grew up in Kansas City and graduated from Georgetown University, where he became friends with fellow student and future president Bill Clinton. “Our connections are mostly personal, not political,” Williams said.
Early in his career, he worked under CBS News president Fred Friendly and wrote copy for the likes of Harry Reasoner, Charles Osgood and Pat Summerall. He later moved to broadcast TV in Albany, New York, where he covered the Woodstock music festival and Sen. Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick accident.
He later worked in Baltimore and Miami before venturing to Atlanta in 1976. Here, he first was a director at WXIA-TV but didn’t care for it and convinced Atlanta Journal editor Jim Minter to give him a job as a writer. Williams was first an investigative reporter and a city editor before becoming a columnist for the afternoon newspaper.
Rick Allen, his close friend and a former panelist on “The Georgia Gang,” said Williams was liberal in one area, race. “Many conservatives were motivated by resistance to civil rights. But Dick wasn’t like that,” he said. “He had a keen admiration for the Black leaders in Atlanta. He had a particularly high opinion of Andy Young,” the former civil rights activist, mayor, Georgia congressman and United Nations ambassador.
In 1995, Williams wrote a book about politician Newt Gingrich, whom he befriended before Gingrich became speaker of the House of Representatives. “I always enjoyed talking to Dick because he always had common-sense insights,” Gingrich told the AJC. “He was a significant force in Georgia television... It was a great honor to have him write a book about me, and it reflected our many decades of friendship.”
Williams always loved small-town newspapers and purchased the Dunwoody Crier in 1996. At its peak, the paper had eight full-time employees. He was particularly proud of its coverage of the 1998 tornado that obliterated 3,000 Dunwoody homes.
He spent a lot of time covering the cityhood movement in Atlanta’s suburbs, and his paper supported the creation of Dunwoody, Brookhaven and Peachtree Corners.
“The Dunwoody Crier really brought the community together before Facebook and social media,” said Fran Millar, a close friend and former Georgia state legislator. “He’s a major reason why so many people voted for cityhood” in 2008.
With his health declining, his wife and fellow journalist Rebecca Chase fighting cancer, and newspapers suffering from declining readership and income, Williams decided to sell his beloved Crier in 2019. He said near the end that he was not paying himself and was investing his savings in it to keep it going.
“I am not a businessman,” Williams said in 2019. “I am a newspaper man... We’ve been living off the land for several years and it was driving me crazy.”
Away from journalism, Williams enjoyed refereeing high school basketball games, an avocation he did for more than 40 years.
Chris Curle, who was married to the late WSB-TV anchor Don Farmer, was family friends with Williams and Chase for decades. She said Williams was a vacuum of information. His desk in his den “was a fire hazard, piled high with various periodicals and half-opened books and stacks of newspapers,” she said.
And he was the type of person who wouldn’t just say he liked a particular book, he’d analyze the plotlines and the characters in an entertainingly forensic fashion, Curle said. He was the same with meals. “He’d tell you not only how good or bad the oysters were, but where they came from and, ‘Oh, did you hear about that problem with oyster harvesting?’ That’s the way he was.”
Williams is survived by two daughters Chase Cooper and Clare Stevens.
A funeral service is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Friday, February 11, at St. Jude the Apostle Church in Sandy Springs for both Williams and his late wife Rebecca Chase, who died of cancer in 2020.
Family-placed obituary about Dick Williams, including funeral details
2019: Bidding Dick Williams farewell from ‘The Georgia Gang’
2019: Dick Williams’ Dunwoody Crier gets sold to Appen Media Group
2020: Mourning in America: On the memorial service that wasn’t, for Rebecca Chase Williams
Jim Galloway from 2019: A thank you note to Dick Williams on his ‘Georgia Gang’ goodbye
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