ATLANTA (AP) — Ron Williams, a veteran Associated Press technology manager who began his career with AP as a teenager maintaining the teletype machines in the Atlanta bureau, died Thursday. He was 63.
Williams, who rose to become the technology manager for seven states, died after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Based in the AP's Atlanta offices, the Georgia native was remembered as a mentor to scores of technicians over the years, using his keen sense of humor and never-ending optimism to defuse the most stressful times.
"Even when things weren't going good, Ron would see the humor in it," recalled Patrick DeRosa, a technology specialist in the AP's Atlanta offices. "Ron could take people ready to jump out of the window and make them feel like everything was fine."
His loss will be felt deeply far beyond the Atlanta offices and throughout the AP's technology division, co-workers said.
"He was a leader and innovator and problem-solver extraordinaire and mentor to scores of young technicians over the years," three AP technology colleagues — Senior Vice President Lorraine Cichowski; Vice President Kurt Rossi; and Global Director Howard Gros — said in a statement Thursday.
Williams lived south of Atlanta in Williamson and leaves behind his wife, Dea; two daughters, Dana and Kim; and a son, Kevin. Services are pending.
Williams, born in the northwest Georgia town of Rome on May, 13, 1950, was hired as a temporary office assistant at the AP's Atlanta Bureau in the summer of 1968.
He typically used a less formal title — copy boy — when he told colleagues about his first role with the news cooperative. AP video journalist Johnny Clark, who worked with Williams during that time, recalls how the two kept records of the news stories sent out by teletype machines and made sure the huge devices always had paper.
Later, as Williams moved into his roles as a technology manager, he made sure his co-workers always had the supplies and technology they needed to do their jobs. Besides Georgia, he oversaw operations in Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina.
By June 1970, he was promoted to a technician in Atlanta. He moved to the AP's Washington offices in April 1971. The following year he returned to Atlanta, where he spent the vast majority of his career.
In 1991, he was promoted to field engineer and then to assistant chief of communications a few months later. In 1995, he was named chief of communications in Atlanta. In 2004, he became technology manager, as the chief of communications title was no longer used by the company.
In Atlanta, one of his challenges as technology manager was the AP's creation of a regional editing center for the Southeastern U.S.
"Whether it was introducing cutting-edge photo technology to AP customers, bringing up circuits during the calamity that was Hurricane Katrina or building out a new regional editorial desk in Atlanta for AP journalists, Ron made every situation fun and tackled each challenge with a smile," Cichowski, Rossi and Gros said in their statement.
Jay Reeves, an AP correspondent in Alabama, recalls Williams' presence as one of the few bright memories in the days and weeks that followed Hurricane Katrina's landfall on the Gulf coast. Reeves and Williams were part of the AP team dispatched to the coastline to cover the 2005 disaster.
"Whether it was providing for communications needs or scrounging gasoline or cooking great dinners for a bunch of tired, ornery journalists, Ron was always there with a smile or a joke," Reeves recalled. "At one point, we were staying in campers in an RV park that also had become home to a bunch of truckers who were hired to haul away storm debris," Reeves added. "Ron took care of both the AP folks and the drivers, treating all with equal kindness."
Cichowski, Rossi and Gros said they will remember that personal touch, which came through in Williams' personal interactions with colleagues, and also the bit of optimism he included with his emails.
"If there is email in heaven, the ones from Ron no doubt will carry his classic sign off — 'Life is Good,'" they said.