A Life Lived: Earl Williams remembered by many as a ‘gentle giant’

Published 9:51 am Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Many knew Earl Williams as the long-time manager of Watsons and later, Peebles. Others knew him as Dora’s husband. But, Teresa Carver, a former Peebles and Watsons employee, saw him as a “gentle giant.”

“I grew up shopping at Watsons. I remember he was so tall that I was a little afraid of him. I never dreamed that one day I would be working for him. Teresa worked at Watsons 17 years — 15 years with Williams. “He was a kind, gentle man, but he wanted you to stay busy. So, even if you weren’t busy, you tried to look busy. He was a good person to work for,” said Teresa.

“Recently, when my mother was in the hospital, Earl was a patient there, too. I visited him some at the hospital and later at the nursing home. He missed Dora (his wife) so much after she died. They lived together, worked together. Their lives were so intertwined, he was lost when she died,” Teresa shared.

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Another co-worker, Thomas Ingram, remembers Williams as a great mentor. “I was friends with his younger brother, Larry, and often, Larry would get a bunch of us together and we would go down to the old store on Elk Avenue and clean at night. This was in the late ’50s. Later, he gave me a job at the store. He was a super person to work for. You could always count on him, if you needed help,” said Ingram, who later worked as a manager for Williams.

“Mr. Williams was highly respected by his peers in the company. He trained many of their store managers — at least 14 or 16 of them. He was super-kind, and I can never remember him saying a cross word to me. You couldn’t beat him as a boss. I learned a lot from him. He taught us everything we knew,” said Ingram.

Ingram recalls that Williams’s father had Williams’s Grocery at Hunter, so he had known him since a teenager.

“Earl was one of the best friends I ever had. He called me often after his wife, Dora, passed away. I once or twice a week stopped and visited him. I will always remember his kindness and the opportunities at work he gave me,” Ingram shared.

Luther McKeehan, a close friend and caretaker the last few months of Williams’s life, knew Williams as a “fine Christian gentleman.”

“For many years until he and his wife moved five or six years ago, Earl and Dora were our neighbors on Jobe Road. We also attended church and ministered together at West Side Christian Church. He loved his church and the Lord. For a long time, he and Dora changed the church sign weekly. He always had a catchy, but meaningful message he posted each week. Many have told me they just drove by each week to read the message posted on the sign,” McKeehan shared.

He told us that Earl began working at Watsons after serving in the military. “Red Loyd was manager at Watsons at the time, and he gave him a job. He spent his entire working career with the company and later replaced Loyd as manager. During his time at Watsons, he hired many young people, especially at Christmas. To some, it was their first job,” said McKeehan.

During his illness at the end, Williams received a number of cards, many of them from former employees, wishing him well.

When he wasn’t working, Williams enjoyed spending time at the lake and fishing. “He had a houseboat and often he would take Larry and his friends to the lake. We would swim, ski, hang out on the boat. He was good to us boys,” said Ingram.

McKeehan shared that Williams was active in his Sunday School class at West Side Christian and at one time was a deacon. “He sent a lot of cards from the Sunday School class, and was always working to build attendance at the church. Even, when he was in the hospital the last time, he talked about things the church could do to build attendance,” Williams said.

Earl didn’t have any family, except for a couple of nieces, who lived out-of-state, so he depended on his church family a lot, McKeehan shared.

He was married to his wife, Dora Morris Williams, 61 years. “They were opposites when it came to people, but he loved her dearly, and he dearly missed her when she died. He visited her grave at the cemetery often and he would tell me as well as others ‘I need Dora,’” McKeehan said.

A neighbor, Katie Potter, who often checked on Williams after Dora’s death, knew him as a kind, gentle man. “He was always appreciative of anything you did for him, said Katie.

Earl worked at Watsons 40 years, so almost everyone knew him or recognized him when they saw him. In addition to his work at Watsons and his service at West Side Christian Church — the two works which defined him — Earl was a former member of the Elizabethton Civitan Club and was a volunteer for Arm.

However, to most, Earl Williams will be remembered as a “gentle giant.”