When Mayor Ronnie Williams learned he’d be receiving the James R. Stevens Service to Garner Award, he said he was shocked.
“Total shock,” Williams said last week.
Williams is on the selection committee for the James R. Stevens Award. He usually plays a part in the decision for who will win. He said this year, the committee had six nominations. His name was not one of them.
The award is given annually to people who have made substantial, outstanding contributions to Garner over a significant number of years.
“We had looked at all the nominations,” he said. “They kept me in the dark on this thing and they did a good job.”
The committee had one final meeting, in which Williams said he thought they would finally choose who would win the award.
He said that’s when the town clerk told him he had won it.
Williams, 68, has been nominated in past years, but asked not to be selected.
“I told them at that time I didn’t want to get considered,” he said. “I guess from that standpoint I didn’t think I’d ever get it.”
Jeanette Hagwood Stevens, one of the committee members, declined to reveal how they hid it from the mayor, but she said they had to because he would have turned them down.
She said there were many worthwhile candidates, but Williams was an easy choice.
“He has worked for the town of Garner tirelessly for many years. He epitomizes everything that the award is about, long-time support and service to Garner.”
The award is named after the late James R. Stevens, a long-serving town alderman and civic leader. It was established in 1988, and Stevens was the first recipient.
Jimmy Stevens, one of James Stevens’ son, said the award meant a lot to his father until he passed away.
“One of his concerns was whether the award would continue to go on after he passed away,” Stevens said. “I’m sure he would be very proud and very happy that Ronnie is receiving it, because his service to Garner is so similar to what Daddy’s was.”
Williams has served as the mayor of Garner since 2005. Among the 12 municipalities in Wake County, only four have served longer.
Prior to being elected mayor, he served as an alderman for 20 years, from 1985-2005.
Williams said he first filed for election for the Garner Board of Alderman after a few people, who were dissatisfied with the way things were going in the town, requested he run.
When he ran for mayor, he said he didn’t think he’d win. He saw others that were deserving. But he was ready for the challenge. He said his biggest challenges came during the ConAgra explosion in June 2009.
“Because I stayed on the ground at the command station for the better part of three days until the victims were recovered,” Williams said. “I think in three days I slept for three hours. I wanted to be there and I felt like the people wanted me to be there to keep them informed with what’s going on.”
The community got together in support of the victims and first responders. Restaurants fed them meals. Pastors provided counseling services, he said.
That day, Williams said he learned just how tight-knit the community was.
“Garner people were like they always are,” Williams said. “Caring, giving and devoted and were concerned about what happened.”
Williams said he continues to serve Garner, because the town has been good to him. He said he is most proud that he has a “very caring and supporting wife.”
“Staying at home and taking care of the kids, I’m most proud of how she’s stood beside me,” Williams said of his wife Betsy.
A native of Garner, Williams graduated from Garner High School in 1966. After serving in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1968-69, he went to work for the U.S. Postal Service for 36 years.
About the award
The Stevens Award is named for James R. Stevens, who was a long-time Alderman and civic leader.
This is the 29th recognition. A reception will be held in his honor on Aug. 16
A recognition ceremony will follow at 7 p.m. during the town council meeting.