Remembering John Ross Williams

I lost my dad two weeks ago. The following is what I said at his funeral on what John taught me in being my father, mentor, and friend.

I have been incredibly lucky to have John Ross Williams as a father, as a boss, as a mentor, and as a friend.

Now – you will notice I say that I have been lucky….not that I have had it easy. I have been lucky because, like all of you, I got the best in John Williams – a father, a boss and business partner, a mentor, Ally’s second father, my children’s Poppa, my mother’s ‘hunk’, my political advisor, and I am especially lucky in the last several years, he has become my friend.

Like his father, my grandfather Don Ross Williams, dad had been engrained with certain attributes that allowed him to be successful – and these were the very same attributes that he was to instill in me:

Courage, A strong Moral Compass, Resolution – the ability to get the job done, or Tenacity as my grandfather would say, Get Er’ Done as he would say, Industry – the ability to work hard and often, and Love – his love of people, a deep love for my mother, his family, his grandchildren, his community, and a love for life.

He was committed to teaching these values each and every day, sometimes it was done the hard way, right Brad? (I was the good kid). Dad wasn’t always the fun loving witty man with Brad and I, it was normally the opposite as he strove to teach us, he led by example and wanted us to truly understand that hard work is the cornerstone for success.

John as a father expected something extra from you – it was motivated as being a dad.

I will always remember the ride home in the car, after my first year of university. I attended the University of Western, Ontario. I had done very well in business, and economics, but more or less spent the majority of the year focusing on more ‘social’ activities. Growing up in Oak Hills in the deep country of Stirling as a teenager, and my father’s strict – one night out a week – and no-nonse curfew, made university Disney World for me in my first year of post education studies.

What I didn’t realize is that dad got a copy of my grades, and although I didn’t fail anything (I thought that was already Rhode scholar worthy), I certainly didn’t impress my parents.

The ride home was somber, and had many platitudes of what I was to do with my time, and my life. I had disappointed him. But we made a plan, and I went the following year to raise my average 20% before finishing off my Bachelor of Commerce Honours, Hotel and Food Administration, at the University of Guelph 3 years later.

I would end up in Belleville, at 24, General Manager of the Best Western, working for my father.

That was just the beginning of my training. It was hard stuff. We only had one hotel at that time. Dad was in every day, and I worked with Georgia. It was very hard for years. As Georgia would say, there can be too many Williams’ in one room.

But 16 years later, the last 8 especially that I thank God for – as Dad fought cancer, this man has been able to pass these incredible traits on to me.

Dad had courage. Man did he have courage. The Courage came with a Moral Compass.

It took a lot of courage a decade ago to stand in front of the community when the CFB Trenton Colonel was arrested and proclaim that ‘not one man defines the military’, and that the military needed to be lifted up.

It was because of my father that I had the courage to stand up for what’s morally right at critically important times, especially in this past year. Just 3 weeks ago, Dad demonstrated his conviction and courage as he spoke publically – on the radio – expressing his unwavering support for 8-wing Trenton and the JTFII plan – he was not at all well, this was the last time he spoke publically.

He knew the difference between right and wrong, and taught us to listen to your moral compass, even if you stand alone. He was my political mentor, and I often would lean on him for advice. He would say that if a decision you made allowed you to sleep at night, then that’s the right direction to continue to make.

He stood with many when he never missed one repatriation ceremony at the base, which led to the formation of the Highway of Heroes. That led to his leadership with the Afghanistan Repatriation Memorial, and the Lav III Memorial.

He lived his life by the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. He was kind to others, and he truly exemplified that the day he got into politics – that protective business shell came down.

Many people remember dad by ‘Get Er’ Done! His resolution was ingrained in him. That was from my grandfather, who often used the metaphor of a birch tree at Papineau Lake, that grew parallel to the water, roots clinging to beach, that ‘that tree has tenacity’, that you must have tenacity and finish the job, no matter how big or how small.

I’ve learned from grandfather, and to a larger extent, John, that no matter how difficult, mundane, or tedious, getting the job done is paramount to success. It’s his resolve and resolution that allowed him to be successful.

I’ve learned of three instances, previously not fully known by the public, or even completely by myself in the past two weeks, of the work my father had done, and wanted none of the credit. My father helped keep hockey in Trenton, first by investing in the Trenton Sting, and second as a mayor, when he was credited for helping to bring the Port Hope Junior A team which would become the Trenton Golden Hawks. My father helped create the Highway of Heroes, first as a Councillor, then as a Mayor my attending every Afghanistan War repatriation ceremony. His leadership helped inspired a movement. And third, dad helped create the Empire Theatre in Belleville. Mark Rashotte let me know after his death, that he had approached dad, when banks would not finance the completion of the theatre. Dad agreed to loan Mark a substantial amount of money, but wanted no credit himself, just to Mark, and the Empire Theatre was born in Belleville.

Besides getting things done, it was working hard, not hardly working, that contributed to dad’s main success. He would be the first one in the office, work 40-50 hours a week, and then put in his remaining time with volunteer hours in the community and his family.

Often the first call of the day from dad would be ‘You at the hotel’?

Dad put every hour into every day, something by necessity I’ve had to learn, especially the more you pack into your community work, career, and family.

And to round it off – dad showed the trait of Love.

He put our mother first. They would take at least one week a year that was just for them, something I will always do with my Ally. He took care of her, and would show love and affection to her. His love was unwavering.

And his love was in full force with his grandchildren.

But it was his love of life that was most inspiring. He loved God, he loved going to church, he loved his friends, and had a lot of good times with them, sometimes too much fun, right Clive? He loved his Vettes, he loved his boats, but he was most at home just going on Blue Jay trips with a group of guys, and other gatherings with many people. He became increasingly comfortable with the public. We say that before dad became Mayor, it was Heather that got him elected, then he became the public’s and the rest was because of him.

At 66 years young, he has left all of us with many lasting legacies and lessons. For me, he has taught me courage, moral conviction, resolution, and industry, and to love, love life, love your wife, and be kind to everyone you can.

At any age, when faced with an ethical dilemma, after reflection, study, or even rationalization, I find myself coming back to one simple question. What would dad do? His character is the foundation of my conscience.

His battle with cancer was the most impressive display of that. He would, when he learned he had cancer as Mayor, go in for treatments early, and go back to work, sometimes until 10pm because the job had to be done. He would tell no one, as he wanted the attention placed on projects and others, not himself. He fought until the bitter end.

He was in every sense a great man, every inch a King, and a true Leader until his very last day.

What dad taught me, will continue to our next generation, Jack, Patrick, and Zooey, and what he taught all of us will echo through this region for generations.

Dad, you Got E’r Done !

I love you and we will miss you dad.

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