On the 12th of October, 1991, less than a mile from where the Pacific rolls onto the shores of southwest Washington state, friends and family assembled to honor the memory of I ack Williams. It was his kind of day. Despite forecasted cautions of rain, the sun shone brightly, making it clear that wherever Jack had gone, he was already exerting influence. The rustic seaside community bristled with appointments that nurture quality in its people. It was the sort of place where production of a Jack Williams would be expected. Much of the region’s surviving primeval character remained in evidence. Roadside stands of alders, despite lingering summer weather, donned the first traces of autumn splendor, as to honor a departed friend who bad passed his early life and final days among them. The opening hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers. with its simplicity and directness, set a perfect tone for the gathering.
We learned of Jack the child and young man from first cousin and boyhood friend, now a clergyman, Father Tom Williams. The two lived next door to each other, Jack being the older by almost a year. Describing early friends with whom they had lived day to day for twelve years, only first names were used. Those who recognized them, it was explained, would know the surnames and those who didn’t wouldn’t know who they were anyway. This homespun humor, so reminiscent of Jack, evoked the first of many occasions for laughter among a loyal following who crowded the chapel beyond its standing room capacity. The awe and mystique earned by Jack’s early teachers were sustained and they were identified by last names, preceded by the mandatory Miss, Mrs. and Mr. prefiXes. Leaders are born, not made, and this quality was very obvious in Jack from the onset. As a young child, he was leader of the “Secret 7,” not a very secret group, because if it was, then it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun to be a member. Jack was captain of the eighth grade basketball team, not the best player, mind you, but the captain. He knew the rules better than the high school age officials who would blow their whistles and then Jack stepped forward to explain the call. They won a lot of games in that manner. A chronic ear infection kept him from playing high school basketball until his senior year. Father Tom then believed this malady would keep them from taking Jack at Annapolis, but when confronted with this opinion, Jack simply ignored it and went anyway.
Jack was also captain of the football team and he told all the players what to do. “He bad to come to the bench to tell me what to do,” lamented the Father Tom, “because that’s where I spent most of my time.” Tones of sadness were in the voice that spoke of Jack’s reaching the point where he bad to give up being a natural leader and leave home to become a professional leader. The bittersweet tender years had run their inevitable course, and it was obvious that Jack’s gifts of talent and leadership were far too immense to be hoarded by his tiny home town community. Goodbyes were spoken with great reluctance as the cousins and close friends of childhood parted to follow different paths from their first major fork in life’s road.
Jack is remembered for having excelled as a leader. He listened to those who differed with him, and so was able to retain their confidence. To this, he blended a truly remarkable sense of humor which further strengthened Jack’s performance of his inevitable leadership roles.
Jack confided to Father Tom at a recent family picnic that he did not want to die. He accepted it, but reluctantly. There remained a great many things he wanted to do, and by Jack’s perception, many debts he believed still owed.
Father Tom regretted not being able to live near Jack as an adult, but declared that all our paths, regardless of when they had crossed with Jack’s, caused us to be in some way affected by him. Later a poem would be read which includes verses that summarize his attitudes about life and his passing from il Jack’s time was adorned with many friends, the best among them, his wife Dorothy, but many, many friends. When Father Tom last spoke with him, Jack had revealed his peace with God, country and self. The eulogy concluded with an expression of gratitude for all that had been done by a very close cousin and childhood friend, Jack Williams. Father Tom earned gratitude and respect from those who had not known Jack in the early years, for indeed the dissertation was difficult for one who bad so loved his cousin.
Dan Cooper spoke of the Navyman, Submariner and Admiral, and gave a splendid account of what Jack had done with his time away from his fellow townspeople. Dan fell naturally into the homespun mode set previously, and his warm message was not obscured in Navy jargon. Jack was no different from what had been earlier said of him. His success brought no pretenses nor airs. He was always himself, just as we all have come to know him. Jack touched and changed many lives. He was smart, professional and enthusiastic, and was blessed with a penchant for naturally doing the right thing.
Dan was a young officer on the attack submarine HADDO, while it was commanded by Jack. During a port visit at Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Dan had planned a trip to see his 80 year old grandmother in Lake Worth, 90 miles away. Taxi fare would be paid out for the 2 hour ride to Lake Worth, a 2 hour wait, and then 2 hours for the ride back. A local citizen, Bob, chanced to visit HADDO. Jack related the story of Dan’s plan and asked whether anything could be done. Bob stammered something about loaning his personal car. Scarcely were the words spoken when Jack roared out what a splendid idea this was. Somewhat flustered, Bob delivered on his promise, but was never quite the same again.
Another anecdote was on Jack’s sense of knowing when rules should be bent. Ballistic missile submarine movements were never discussed, but it seemed always on the eve of Dan’s return to port, a certain Navy captain would arrive at his home and conduct an impromptu white glove inspection to alert Dan’s wife of the impending visit of a very important person. This sort of thing typified why so many considered Jack to be a very special person. Admiral Jack Williams had three submarine commands, commanded a submarine squadron in Rota, Spain, and was Chief of the Navy Section of Joint U.S. Military Mission for Aid to Turkey at Ankara, Turkey. He might be the only person to have been selected for flag rank and become father of a new son in the same month. He rose to the rank of full Admiral and became the Chief of Naval Material, where he led the organization responsible for making all purchases enacted by the Navy. Many who worked for Jack Williams did quite well in their careers, a goodly number being promoted to Admiral. All have been profoundly affected by Admiral Jack. Dan said that apart from his wife and father, Jack had exerted greater influence on him than anyone.
An American Flag which had flown over two of the places considered by Jack to be the most important to him in his home state of Washington, the Submarine Base, Bangor and the Naval Undersea Museum Foundation, Keyport, was presented to his widow, Dorothy.
A second clergyman eulogizer spoke of the Navy man returned home. Jack could always talk you into doing something you really didn’t want to do and you would end up being glad you did it A significant number of heads among the congregation signaled personal experience in this regard by nodding in the affirmative.
The speaker told of once being concerned over whether the stature of a local Loyally Day parade was sufficient to bring a Navy Admiral to be its Grand Marshall. He learned later that it was the stature of the man that brought the Admiral to the parade.
School bond issues were being voted down and then Jack became Chairman of the School Board. Tireless efforts on his part resulted in better definition of the efforts needed and the direction in which they should be applied. Through the magic of his leadership, an effective consensus was reached and the school situation improved remarkably.
As evidenced by the row of Boy Scouts in the congregation, Jack had given them great support. Some were embarrassed at the first Scout meeting when after asking Jack to attend, only one boy showed up. Not at all flustered, Jack worked with the lad, focusing on what was needed for the youngster to advance in rating. Word spread and the next meeting was substantially better attended, thus Boy Scout Troop 28 grew because of him. On a scout campout, despite having recently undergone knee surgery, Jack knelt among the boys and helped them to scrub a facility they had been permitted to use. The place was left in much better condition than it was found, Jack made the time to speak at courts of honor for two of the boys who made Eagle Scout.
He was extremely successful in founding the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the U.S. Naval Submarine League, but, much earlier in Jack’s life, a tryout for the church choir resulted quite differently. At the conclusion of his audition, the choir director, diplomatically as possible, discussed the church’s urgent need for Sunday School teachers. Jack also knew how to follow, for this quality is the very foundation of the sound leadership he universally provided. And so he became an outstanding Sunday School teacher.
Death turns us to God instinctively. It brings about a coming together for reassurance, hence so many have gathered because they care. The journey of self on earth is done and the post-life voyage begins for Jack. Let all go forward and remember. Let all be thankful for the goodness and truth passed on by our good friend to so many others.
Voices were joined in the Navy Hymn, followed by a recitation of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, Crossin2 the Bar. The final stanza summarized perfectly what result would come from the manner in which Jack had directed his life ” … 1 hope to see my Pilot face to face, when I have crossed the bar.”
Dorothy and family did husband, father and our friend proud as they greeted each who had come to the memorial service, many from very long distances. Jack was special because he always made everyone feel special, and the aura of his presence was very much sensed. Almost at anytime it seemed his great voice would boom out your name, and declare how good it is to see you. Alas, it did not. Its music is lost to us forever, but not the memory of 1 ack Williams, and the value he added to the many lives so fortunate to have him be a part of them.
Admiral John G. Williams, Jr., USN(Ret.)
(Founder and first President of the NSL Pacific Northwest Chapter)
Vice Admiral Robert L. Walters, USN(Ret.)
Captain Louis H. Roddis, Jr., USN(Ret.)