Monday, June 1, 2015

That grin! The serious look. That was Jack Williams

We read the other day that Jack Williams had passed away on May 28. It was an obituary that you didn’t want to read. It’s hard to believe Jack is no longer with us. He was one of those one-of-a-kinders who, if you ever met him, especially if you had ever worked for him, you would never forget. Without hesitation, anyone who worked for him at his various places of employment would compare “Jack Williams” notes. He was a mentor to a lot of people who have had successful careers because they worked with him and learned.

Jack will be known as a longtime Sports Information Director at UNC-Chapel Hill and Virginia Tech. He had an infectious smile when something pleased him and a unique laugh when something was funny. But he had a serious side that you recognized immediately and reminded you to stop arguing and move on. Jack knew what he wanted, especially from sports writers covering the Tar Heels and the Hokies, and he knew how to get it.

My association with Jack was as interesting as any because my first meeting with Jack was as a student newspaper writer at NC State. We didn’t know each other well, but he was a professional and he supplied what we needed to cover UNC athletics while he was there. Not in his obituary, though, was his short stint into politics in 1975 and 1976. He had been SID at UNC for a number of years but he was job seeking in 1975. He was asked to join the Edward M. O’Herron for Governor Campaign as Press Secretary. The primary was in August of 1976.

Jack was looking for an assistant, and my dogged effort won me the job. It was a UNC man hiring an NC State student, and he sure taught me a lot. We began most of each day looking at clippings from the morning locals. We came up with a travel schedule for accompanying the candidate. He talked with reporters; we wrote and sent out news releases. We worked hard enough to come in second in a five-man primary, but way short of being able to ask for a runoff. Jim Hunt was the winner, eventually winning the general election, the first of four terms as NC Governor.

It was the afternoon before the election, after the hot summer campaign, and we were sitting in the campaign’s cool air conditioned office on Hillsborough Street in downtown Raleigh. We had been making last minute calls to newspapers, trying to put a positive spin on the campaign when silence came upon us for a moment and Jack asked me, “How do you think we’ll do tomorrow?” After a moment of reflection, my response came: “We’ll do well enough to get into a runoff and then we’ll win.” Jack just stared at me for a moment and gave me his serious look. Then he grinned from ear to ear with his “I’m about to say something true but funny” look and said, “We don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell.” It was moment that will always be with me. Rest peacefully, Jack. You deserve it.
-------------------- word of the day
Jiggery-pokery (noun) [jib-uh-ree-poh-kuhree] trickery, hocus-pocus; fraud; humbug

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