Not even a higher salary offer elsewhere could have persuaded Judson Williams to move from Garner. His employer asked him if he would be interested in transferring to a different area on multiple occasions.
But each time he would tell them “no.” Garner was his home. He worked for Ralston Purina for 26 years. He also worked for Proctor & Gamble Co. and Cargill.
When asked why he couldn’t leave he said, “I just couldn’t. I loved Garner.” Part of the reason was because he had young children in middle school. But the other part was he wanted to continue make a difference in the community.
“I remember one day when one of the vice presidents of the company came to Raleigh and I brought him to Garner and when we turned up there at the fire station on Main Street,” Williams, 79, recalled, “I said, ‘This is Main Street. What do you see?’ He said ‘I don’t see nothing.’ I said ‘that’s what I see. Nothing, and that is why I can’t go.’”
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“They said if you don’t want to transfer, you will continue to make Raleigh money.”
But not even that was enough to entice him.
“So I didn’t make as much money as I could have, but I said if I make enough to live I’ll be alright,” he said.
Williams is definitely a popular person in the town. Most people know his name. Back in the day, he was known as a regular at town council meetings. He, like Helen Phillips, fought to make sure issues were being addressed in the black community.
“From the day I decided to get into Garner politics, Judson’s name was out there as someone I needed to get to know,” Mayor Ronnie Williams said. “He’s always been a person who speaks his mind and you know what position he takes and what he stands for.”
One such issue Judson Williams fought for was the removal of an oil recycling plant that former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt worked to put on New Rand Road, right in the heart of Garner’s black community.
Some prisoners worked at the plant and would walk off and roam the neighborhoods and terrorize those in the community, Ronnie Williams said.
Judson Williams helped lead a movement to get the plant removed. And it was successful.
He also fought against the closing of the railroad crossings in Garner.
“Whenever (town council members) would see me, they knew there was going to be a fight going on,” Judson Williams said.
But he was also an active participant in the development of Garner. He was on every committee there was and was often times the only black representation.
“Whatever Garner started to do I was involved in,” Judson Williams said. “They would always come to me and say ‘Look we’re starting this, and we need your help.’ Garner was always home and I loved it.”
Ronnie Williams agreed.
“What downtown is today and what it’s going to be, a lot of the credit goes to Judson Williams,” he said.
While friends told others – not familiar with the area – they were from Raleigh, he always made sure he told people he was from Garner.
Williams said he doesn’t know what he loves most about the town he grew up in but he knows it’s home and will always be home.
A role model
Born and raised in Garner, he and his family lived on Rand Mill Road. He graduated from Garner Colored School in the early ’50s. The school would eventually become Garner Consolidated and later merged with Garner High in the late ’60s. He was valedictorian at his school and went on to Shaw University.
Whether he knew it or not, Judson Williams was a role model to younger blacks growing up.
Eugene McCullers, who was five years younger than Williams, grew up on the same street. He said Williams and Williams’ best friend Bertron Hayward, a doctor, were the two role models in the black community when he was growing up. They were valedictorian and salutatorian respectively.
“He was the first male valedictorian of Garner Consolidated school that I am aware of, and I wanted to be (the valedictorian) because of him,” McCullers said. “I followed his footsteps in many ways.”
McCullers was Valedictorian of the school when it became Garner Consolidated and eventually went to Shaw like Williams and Hayward.
“There weren’t a lot of role models in the small town of Garner and we were looking for people who were well-respected in the community. He and Dr. Hayward were the ones to complete higher education, so they were my role models more than others.”
Five years ago, tragedy struck his family.
His wife of 53 years died after a three-year battle with cancer. Then in 2013 both of his sons died . His youngest son died of heart problems due to smoking and the oldest died of a blood clot. They would have been 47 and 57. He still has a daughter, who lives down the street, who helps him clean up and checks on him every day.
“That was something, I tell you,” he said. “That was bad. That was bad. But I thank God for leaving me with the one daughter.
He said the day before his oldest son died, he had a dream that his son had called out his name. It woke him up. He didn’t tell anybody.
The next day he heard the bad news.
Now every morning Williams wakes up, he walks to the living room and turns on the three plastic candles that hold the pictures of his wife and two sons. He says a prayer, then tells them he loves them and misses them.
“Sometimes you can do it and go, but sometimes it just consumes you,” Williams said, his voice cracking.
Today, Williams likes to cook. Many people come to his house to eat his famous ribs. He also collects toy classic cars.
Inside his den, certificates for appreciation adorn the walls. Williams said one of his biggest accomplishments was getting the YMCA in Garner. He helped raised $2,000 and encouraged others to donate money as well.
But he did it because he wanted to make Garner a better place.
“I believed in Garner,” he said.