Obituary: John J. Williams
May 12, 2013
Dec. 17, 1922 – April 27, 2013
Born December 17, 1922 in Cornell, Illinois and after having lived a life committed to honesty, integrity and accomplishment, he passed away on April 27, 2013.
John grew up in rural Illinois farm country in a family of eight, the second son of Josephine and Sterling Williams.
Too young to enlist after high school, where he was characterized as a good student, athlete and hard worker, and not able to afford college, he attended a trade school which led to work in the aircraft industry, allowing him to get closer to his real interest to fly. After the draft age was dropped from 20 to 18 and against the wishes of his parents, he enlisted with the desire to be a pilot for which he qualified after extensive screening and testing. Further testing found him qualified to be a fighter pilot which was his greatest desire. After intensive, expedited training, he shipped out to North Africa, initially flying Spitfires, then P-51 Mustang in the Southern European war theatre. 49 missions later he was shot down over Romania, receiving extensive injuries. Three months in the hospital was followed by nine months in a POW camp. Released just three days before the Nazis attempted to reassert their control over their reluctant Romanian allies, he and the other POWs were flown to Allied controlled Italy.
Returning to civilian life was challenging, yet after a year or so of adjustment, he reconnected with and eventually married the love of his life, Elizabeth J. Colliver, in June of 1946. He completed his aeronautical engineering degree from the University of Illinois in three years while also starting a family.
After being called back into the Air Force during the Korean War as an aeronautical engineer and secondary pilot, he returned to civilian life, though he continued to be in the Reserves for years, eventually retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel.
His career in private industry took off from that point as he quickly rose up into management, eventually working as a top level executive. Republic Aviation, Lockheed, Philco-Ford Aerospace and Litton Industries were the notable companies for whom he provided leadership. His responsibilities included top secret and top level technical and management positions, from missiles and satellites design and deployment to overseeing 30,000 employees constructing battleships in Mississippi. His career also included a year managing a defense contract and liaising with the Saudi royal family in Saudi Arabia.
On-going physical problems related to his war injuries forced early retirement on him. He spent the latter 2 – 3 decades traveling with his wife of nearly 67 years, serving as a city councilman in Paradise, California, designing and building several family homes, living in Kentucky, California, Arizona and Nevada and always busy in his beloved wood working shop producing useful and loved furniture and other wood craft for family and friends.
A dog lover, husband, father, grandfather and avid reader and learner, he is survived by his wife, Elizabeth “Betty” C. Williams; son, Charles S. Williams and his wife, Toni; and granddaughters, Molly and Emily; son, Joseph A. Williams and his wife, Jane.
May his dedication to his nation and family be honored, and may he rest in peace.
A Celebration of Life will be held at Merrill Gardens on May 20th at 2 p.m.