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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Memorial Day plans made by the heart of a servant

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Gene Williams
(Submitted photo)
The following conversation reflects a Q&A interview with Gene Williams and the Times-Gazette. Williams, an avid local volunteer, is If you have someone you would like to nominate for Sunday Conversation please contact editor Sadie Fowler at sfowler@t-g.com.

TG: Tell us where you're from and a little bit about your basic background, such as family life, work history, etc.

Williams: I was born here in Shelbyville, in the old Bedford County hospital (behind the first Christian Church that is no longer there) to a set of parents that had three daughters they loved, but wanted a son.

My mother almost lost her life with a difficult birth to give me life. I was raised in a time when life was hard and had meaning; respect and morals were taught. I was raised in the area with a creek bank that ran beside our home that is now Lane Parkway. My mother passed away in her sleep April 23 when I was 17.

I remember my mother always taught me to love, respect my elders no matter what, and never give up on anything. She taught me to keep focused and always reach far beyond the stars to accomplish my goals in life. I first remember around five years old we were flooded out many times during flood seasons. I remember the National Guard would come try to save as much as they could and get everyone in that area moved out safely.

TG: What sort of impact did those early memories have on your future?

Williams credits his parents for teaching him to serve the Lord, and others.
(Submitted photo)
Williams: I would say that was my first experience with disasters and it stayed with me all these years. That is why I got involved with disaster services and love to serve my community in time of disasters. I believe that God has set me aside to serve Him this way.

I don't consider myself special but I do believe that I am quite unique with a servant's heart and set aside by God. I know that He has directed me to do many things that I myself saw impossible but with faith He worked through me. We always were in church from day one of life. In 1968 I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

All of my youth life I helped on farms with hauling hay, picking cotton, cutting tobacco, fencing, plus other farm labor things. On weekends, I helped my dad with his second job (he would move people after working all week in the cotton mill).

TG: What did you do following high school graduation?

Williams: After graduation I worked in a shoe manufacture in Chapel Hills for about a year then on July 7, 1967 I went to work at what was called Walking Horse Supply Company making horse equipment. Then, in 1988 World Champion bought Walking Horse Supply and I stayed there until they closed the manufacturing portion of the business in 2008.

The next two years of struggling for survival I found work at the Census Bureau for the 2010 census, which was a real challenge.

TG: You then decided to retire -- temporarily?

Williams is passionate about helping out in disaster situations.
(Submitted photo)
Williams: After that job was finished I just give it up and retired for a few months. That got old real fast so I started back working part time for Winner's Circle (which later bought World Champion). In the down time of getting laid off I started going to the Senior Citizen Center to hang out it was not long after that I started volunteering by delivering Meals on Wheels.

Volunteering grew on me real fast, once I started to get acquainted with needy elderly people. If you love serving, this is a great way to give back. It really brightens up one's day to visit and spend a few moments with each person.

TG: Tell us about your favorite adventures.

Williams: From 1987 to 2008 me and a very good childhood friend of mine, Rod Altman (he passed away in 2008) decided to take a trip out west in which we did go all they way to L.A. and back. After that we decided to travel more and it turned into a yearly event. We traveled twice a year.

For 21 years we were able to visit all 48 states from below sea level at Death Valley to14,110-foot summit Pikes Peak in Colorado. We went to the Olympic National Park, Wash., to Key West and everywhere in between plus hundreds of National and State Parks. We saw Americans, many historical monuments, buildings and museums and natural landmarks. We also traveled all the way across Canada, from Vancouver, where we attended the World's Fair Expo 86 to Yarmouth Nova Scotia and up to Prince Edward Island. We covered all nine providences.

TG: How do you currently spend your days?

Williams is responsible for bringing the Moving Wall to Shelbyville in 2008. Now, he has his eyes set on celebrating Memorial Day with an event to be held at Willow Mount Cemetery.
(Submitted photo)
Williams: I became a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer before 2000 then I became an American Red Cross Disaster volunteer. I started volunteering in 2004, starting when Katrina came ashore. I am now still a Disaster Action Team Captain for Bedord County, DATeam leader in Heart of Tennessee chapter covering eight counties, (among many other organizations).

TG: I know you're behind the plans for the upcoming Memorial Day celebration. Tell us the logistics?

Williams: It's at Willow Mount Cemetery in Shelbyville, on Memorial Day (May 26) from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Memorial Day May 26, 2014

TG: What led you to feeling compelled to organize this event?

Williams: I felt sick and tired of Bedford County not wanting to do anything for one of the most sacred days of the year that is ignored and forgotten (just because the government made it a three day weekend, the meaning has been lost) for the price of the freedom we enjoy this very moment.

People get confused. Memorial Day is NOT Veterans Day, Armed Forces Day, Marine Day, Army Day, Navy Day, Air Force Day or Military Day. It is a very special day set aside just to remember the DEAD -- those that have died and payed the ultimate price for freedom in service ... For those who have served there country and are deceased and no longer with us.

TG: You have expressed concern that Americans, overall, do not appropriately honor fallen vets. Why do you think this is?

Williams: Because the government changed the original day of May 30 to a Monday three day holiday weekend and this way the real meaning of Memorial Day was done away with. Most people just go to the lake, cook out hamburgers and have a good time (nothing wrong with have a good time but at least we could spend some time in honoring and paying respect for the price of the freedom they are enjoying.)

TG: You were also the man behind the Veterans Memorial Wall a few years back. Tell us what that was and what you learned from that tremendous undertaking.

Williams: It was more than a tremendous undertaking. It was a challenge of faith putting me out of the way and allowing God to work through me. For it was not about me but about the 12 Bedford County soldiers and families of these that payed the ultimate price for our freedom with their very own life. In 2008 the wall was in Shelbyville.

I personally knew and went to school with 10 of the 12 Vietnam Bedford County soldiers that were killed in action (even graduated with three of them). My goals went way back before 2000 when I was trying to bring together info and photos of these 12 with complete history of each for this had laid heavy on my heart for years to do.

Visiting each family, finding all 12 graves and markers in which two were out of state was a daunting task. After accomplishing this, the doors opened for me to set up display in the Shelbyville Bedford County Museum. Then in 2007 I visited the Vietnam wall in Winchester meet and talk to a couple from St. Louis who always goes to several of these events. After much thought and prayer I could not let this moment pass but saw no way to get this done. With a big step of faith, no raised funds in January of 2008 I wrote the deposit check in faith not knowing if I would loose it or not.

I spent nine months of hard work of planning getting together and asking for help to get this financed. I just listened and let God lead me each day and make all decisions.

It was God working through me to get this event accomplished for without Him there would had been no way I could of done the many things that I had to do. I still have people today ask when I am going to bring it back and I explain I would love to only if God leads me to try it again. It is a major event to put together and to get it brought here with the honor and respect it deserves. It's not to be taken likely.

TG: You're a busy man -- do you have any other hobbies that fill your days?

Williams: I love motorcycling, hill climbing, motor cross, NASCAR, drag racing, power and muscle cars, genealogy, military history, Indians, space, astronomy, travel, emergency first responders, photography, archeology, ships, planes, volunteering, serving the elderly and my community, working on disaster needs, and visiting cemeteries.

TG: On a lighter note, if there was one famous person you could have dinner with, who would it be and why?

Williams: Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior. Just to be in his presence as Jesus the person to set, talk, walk and have dinner with him in his early life.

TG: Anything else you'd like to share?

Williams: I know that God has set me aside as a special and unique and very different person to be a servant to His people in disastrous needs as well as everyday needs of the elderly. I never question why He leads me to jobs that I see impossible for me but I allow Him to work through me to accomplish things that need to be done that other will not take the challenge. I'm am thankful to serve.

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