On Thursday, June 23 at 3:45 p.m., I received a phone call that struck me to my core. Winston Williams, the Alabama ESGR Ombudsman Director, had been killed in an automobile accident. Winston was a wonderful, caring gentleman and the epitome of what a volunteer is and should be. He never said “no” if there was a task that needed to be completed. Not only was he the Ombudsman Director, he was a valuable member of District 4. He also took on the District 3 Chair position when the former Chair had to leave for a job out of state. Did he miss any unit visits, Ombudsman Director duties or any volunteer assignments? No. He completed them without complaining, because he felt that he was here to serve other Service members as an ESGR volunteer. Oh, by the way, he was 86 years old and ran circles around us young folk.
Let me give you a little background on Winston. In 1951-1952, as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army, he fought in the Korean War were he received a Bronze Star. He returned to the states after the war and joined the United States Army Reserves and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1986. After retirement, Winston focused his time on giving back to his community at both the local and state level and working to improve the lives of the many people he touched. He was a member of the 12th Street Baptist Church in Rainbow City, where he served in numerous positions, including a Deacon, Administrative Board member, Sunday School teacher, and President of the Seniors Club; served as the AARP Chapter President and District Coordinator for community operations helping organize Chapters across the state of Alabama; and, starting in 2008, he chaired the East Alabama Area Agency delegation for the Alabama Silver Haired Legislature.
One of Winston’s real passions was giving back to the military as a volunteer. He joined ESGR in 2008, and in 2009 he was appointed as the Ombudsman Director for the state of Alabama, where he helped mediate conflicts between Service members and employers. For this work, Winston was named by ESGR as the “ESGR Ombudsman of the Year” for the United States in 2012, and for his service, was awarded a commendation by the Governor of Alabama, the Honorable Robert Bentley.
When I spoke with his family on Friday morning they did not know where to turn for his funeral to be a military funeral. I told them not to worry, that we would make anything they wanted happen. How could I not? Winston had done so much for ESGR over the years that we had to make it happen. My first contact was Roger Benton with Survivor Outreach Services. I explained the situation and he and I took it from there. He took the military honors side and I took coordinating the ESGR side. We requested that all ESGR volunteers wear their ESGR shirts because Winston was to be buried in his ESGR shirt out of his love for ESGR. We coordinated Jim Choate, Alabama ESGR Vice-Chair, to speak at the funeral at the request of the family because Dr. Bill Kringel, Alabama ESGR Chair was out of state and could not attend. They requested the ESGR volunteers that attended the funeral sit on the front row with the pallbearers. He received full military honors at his funeral. We accomplished everything the family asked.
In closing, as the Program Support Technician for Alabama, I coordinated and conducted Bosslifts, Annual Planning, Award Meetings, Executive Committee Meetings, and everything in-between. I feel that I did my best work last week and over the weekend honoring a man who asked for so little, but gave all of us so much.
By James R. Adams, ESGR Program Support Technician