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Williams clan served House for 4 decades

POSTED: December 2, 2012 1:00 a.m.

Roger Williams this month is concluding his 22nd year in the Georgia legislature. Dalton Mayor David Pennington honored Williams on his retirement at a recent Rotary Club meeting. Williams was the Dalton area’s state representative.

Roger, who grew up in Gainesville, is the son of the late Jesse Dean and Bill Williams, who served in the legislature for 18 years, representing Hall County. His wife, Joann, is the daughter of the late Ralph and Ocie Pope of Gainesville.

Both Roger and Bill became stalwarts in the state House, serving on influential committees and sponsoring or supporting significant legislation.

Bill was a painting contractor when he won his first term in 1954. He later became president and general manager of Bell Petroleum Co.

He was the main mover behind Hall County’s change from a fee system to salaries for elected county officials. That has saved the county untold thousands of dollars over the years.

Bill Williams also sponsored legislation tightening used car regulations in an effort to break up car theft rings that were operating in Northeast Georgia at the time. He also chaired the powerful House Appropriations Committee and one of the Reapportionment Committees while in the legislature. The late House Speaker George L. Smith said he appointed Williams because he knew how to say “no.”

One of Williams’s most controversial votes came in 1956 during Georgia’s civil rights debates. He was one of only six representatives to vote against a resolution denouncing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding the desegregation of schools. That was when many politicians and voters seemed willing to close schools rather than desegregate them. Though it was an unpopular stance for Williams, he explained that he believed such a resolution was a prelude to closing the schools.

He also wanted to reduce the size of the House, an unpopular movement among legislators who didn’t want to lose their seats.

Williams was one of the House’s foremost supporters of education.

At one time, he was rumored to be a candidate against fellow Democrat Phil Landrum for the 9th District U.S. House seat. He had been seen at numerous fish fries around the district, usually a harbinger for a districtwide run for office. But Williams denied it, saying he attended fish fries every chance he got. And he didn’t run for Congress.

After his service in the legislature, Williams ran for and won the Hall County Commission chairmanship. He served two years before dying in the middle of his term in 1978. The Bill Williams Conference Room in the Joint Administration Building is named in his honor.

In the 1950s, Gainesville had four separate movie houses: the Royal on Main Street next door to the Collegiate Grill; the Ritz on North Bradford Street; the Roxy on what was then Athens Street, now E.E. Butler Parkway; and the State on East Washington Street across from the Jackson Building. In addition, two drive-ins later opened, Skyview on Atlanta Highway and Lake Lanier on Thompson Bridge Road across from Chattahoochee Golf Course.

For whatever reason, the Royal was considered “the nicest” and usually showed first-run movies. If you were waiting for a new movie to come out, it usually would be at the Royal.

The State didn’t have the best reputation. Floors were so sticky from spilled drinks you’d almost come out of your shoes when you stood up. Rats prowled under the seats for popcorn.

Yet it was an exciting time when the State opened in 1924. News writers called it “magnificent,” “grand” and well-equipped. The official opening featured an organ concert.

Debate continues in Atlanta over transportation congestion. Should there be more or wider highways? Should there be more trains or buses? Should officials encourage more bike riding, more carpooling? There’s even a plan to resurrect street cars from the city’s past.

Atlantans back in 1910 loved their street cars. So much, often it was standing room only as residents and visitors packed them in lieu of using their cars, which were not as plentiful back then anyway.

Merchants in downtown Gainesville adopted a slogan in 1928: “Get It in Gainesville.” It apparently didn’t last too long, probably because “it” might be misinterpreted several different ways.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appeared Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.


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