Dick Williams: obituary and funeral details

ajc.com

“As a young man,” Williams once wrote, “I wanted to do three things in life: play basketball in Madison Square Garden, be a big-city newspaper columnist and publish a small-town newspaper that served its community. I did all three. Not bad.”

📷WILLIAMS, Dick Dick Williams, an award-winning journalist whose career in radio, television, and newspapers spanned more than four decades in Atlanta, and whose principled conservatism made him an icon for political junkies, died Thursday of congestive heart failure. He was 77. A memorial service will be held February 11 at 10 AM at St. Jude the Apostle Catholic Church in Sandy Springs, with visitation the evening before from 4 to 7 PM at H.M. Patterson and Son Oglethorpe Hill Chapel, honoring Williams and his late wife, Rebecca Chase, who died in 2020. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Dunwoody and Brookhaven police department foundations. Richard Powers Williams, the son of Margaret Mary (Powers) and William Williams, was born on February 23, 1944, in Chico, California, and raised in Prairie Village, Kansas, near Kansas City, where he attended the Pembroke Hill School and developed a lifelong passion for basketball as a sure-handed guard on the varsity team. A devout Catholic, Williams earned a bachelor of arts degree in history from Georgetown University in 1966 and a year later a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. It was during a break in his college career that Williams apprenticed as a cub reporter with the Kansas City Star and got hooked on news, savoring the old-fashioned atmosphere of a big-city newsroom – manual typewriters, metal desks, and copy editors wearing green eyeshades. He made journalism his life’s work. After Columbia, where his adviser was Fred Friendly, the legendary president of CBS News, Williams worked briefly for CBS Radio in New York City. A pinch-me moment occurred when he played in a basketball game for reporters and sportscasters including Pat Summerall, Frank Gifford, and Ed Bradley in Madison Square Garden. Williams then took a job in local television news in Albany, New York. In his early years, he covered the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew, the epochal rock concert at Woodstock (he found the conditions “gross”), and interviewed the late Senator Ted Kennedy just after Chappaquiddick. Williams was hired as news director by TV stations in New Haven, Baltimore, and Miami, before moving to Atlanta in 1976 to run the news operation at WXIA-TV, Channel 11. In 1979, Williams was hired by the Atlanta Journal as city editor, with a mandate to bring the panache of TV news to a staid print operation. He also served as business editor of the Journal before moving to the editorial page two years later as a columnist whose staunch conservatism became as much a trademark as his bow tie. That same year, 1981, Williams debuted as a founding panelist on “Sunday News Conference,” a 30-minute local affairs program that ran at 6:30 Sunday evenings after the local news. Originated as a forum for calming the fears of city on edge because of the so-called “Missing and Murdered Children,” the program matured into a highly rated prism on politics and public policy. The show later morphed into “The Georgia Gang,” with Williams as moderator, on WATL, Channel 36, and later on WAGA, Fox 5, where it remains the longest running talk show in Atlanta history. Williams retired from the show in 2019, citing his 75th birthday and declining health. Reflecting on Williams’s enduring popularity, his colleague and fellow pundit Frederick Allen said, “Dick just naturally drew people to him. I always likened him to an Irish barkeep, warm and magnetic, someone you wanted to talk with and call your friend.” Working in another news medium, radio, Williams and his liberal friend Tom Houck co-hosted a daily, two-hour program called “Counterpoint” on WGST Radio. In 1995, Williams published “Newt: Leader of the Second American Revolution,” a biography and assessment of then House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Williams’s column ran in the Atlanta Journal until 1999 and later in the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Williams’s conservatism was leavened by a liberal attitude toward race, honed by his coverage of Atlanta black leadership including, as he once said, “giants like Andy Young.” Williams realized his dream of becoming “a small-town newspaperman” in 1996 when he bought the Dunwoody Crier, a modest weekly, and successfully championed the creation of the cities of Dunwoody and Brookhaven. His wife, Rebecca Chase, a retired national correspondent for ABC News, worked side by side with him and served briefly as the mayor of Brookhaven. She died in 2020. The Crier’s annual Independence Day Parade became one of the largest in Georgia. In 1998, when a tornado ripped through Dunwoody, causing widespread destruction, Williams led coverage that earned the Crier recognition for “Best Local News Coverage” from Atlanta magazine. He closed the newspaper in 2019. Williams maintained a lifelong close association with Georgetown and in 1996 was named a John Carroll fellow, the school’s highest honor. He was a member of St. Jude the Apostle Catholic Church in Sandy Springs. Along with news, Williams’s greatest passion was basketball: He served for 33 years as a high school referee, was chosen to officiate at the state tournament seven times, and was a 20-year board member of the Atlanta Tipoff Club, where he helped administer the Naismith Awards. Williams and Rebecca Chase were married in 1979 and had two daughters, Chase Williams Cooper and Clare Williams Stevens. Williams’s first grandchild, Grace Beck Cooper, was born last September, and Williams was able to hold her in his arms before he died. He is survived by his daughters and their husbands, Wesley Richard Cooper and William Maxwell Stevens, and also by a sister, Deborah Ann Williams. “As a young man,” Williams once wrote, “I wanted to do three things in life: play basketball in Madison Square Garden, be a big-city newspaper columnist and publish a small-town newspaper that served its community. I did all three. Not bad.” Not bad at all.

H.M. Patterson & Son-Oglethorpe Hill Chapel

4550 Peachtree Road Ne

Atlanta, GA

30319

https://tinyurl.com/tkcdmpbv

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