Floor and Committee Statements

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Isakson Pays Tribute to John A. Williams

   Mr. President, the Senate is a great place. It is a great honor to be able to speak here, whether you are discussing your beliefs on an issue of major importance, honoring a friend, or, on rare occasions but all too often when you get to be my age, paying tribute to someone who has given so much and passed away.

   Such happened in my state this past Monday, on the 16th of April, when John A. Williams died. He was 74 years old.

   John Williams was a giant in every way in our State. He was a giant entrepreneur. He founded two great companies, one of them called Post Properties, the largest apartment REIT on the New York Stock Exchange. He started it in 1993 and built it to new heights.

   Most recently, a few years ago, he started PAC, Preferred Apartment Communities, a REIT also, and he did the same with it--employing thousands of people, building thousands of units for housing in America.

   He set the pace of housing in his career. I don't know how many people have noticed that in the suburbs of all major cities today, office parks and apartment complexes of any size are now some of the most beautifully landscaped places in the community. Thirty years ago, nobody planted a stick. Nobody planted a shrub. Nobody planted a flower.

   John Williams became the largest importer of Holland bulbs in the United States of America. Every spring, tulips blossomed at Post Properties apartment buildings. In fact, he changed the advertising mode for apartments. Instead of calling them apartments, he called them apartment homes because he wanted his apartments and all the rental units to be looked upon by the people who lived there as their home. He sold that concept and built that concept and replicated it over and over, and it became the standard in Georgia. I have traveled the country, and it has become the standard all over the country in terms of apartment houses and landscaping for major commercial properties.

   He was a great entrepreneur, building two great companies and helping thousands of other people in many other ways to build their companies.

   He was a great father, a great husband, and a great family man. His wife Nancy is a wonderful "first lady" in our community. Parker, Sarah Brook, and Jay, his children, are all great contributors to our community. They all know how lucky they are to have had such a great father.

   He was a great sportsman. When I say a great sportsman, I mean a great sportsman. He built Ranger, a replica of the 1937 America's Cup winner, one of the biggest yachts in the world, and sailed the world on that yacht and won races all around.

   Also as a sportsman, he was a minority owner of the Atlanta Falcons. He invested with Arthur Blank in the Atlanta Falcons. They almost got to the Super Bowl--they got to the Super Bowl; they just couldn't finish the drill with the Patriots. One day we are going to figure out a way to do that, and I hope, in memory of John, we will be able to do it for him.

   John was a community man. Who have you ever heard of in your lifetime who, in the same lifetime, was president of two different competing chambers of commerce, next door to each other? He was twice the president of the DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce. While running Post Properties and PAC communities, while doing all of the things he did with his family, while racing his boat and owning the Falcons, he built two great chambers of commerce and sought others to come to the communities where he was prospering and helped build their businesses. Then he became president of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. The Atlanta and DeKalb County Chambers of Commerce are the one and two largest chambers in our State. Instead of fighting each other, he brought them together.

   He was a builder, he was a giant, but also a broker of common interests. He found the good in every opportunity and tried to sell the good and forget about the bad. He tried to bring out the best in everybody. I never made a deal with John Williams or saw a deal that he had made--I never saw anybody leave the closing table who didn't feel good. His knack was to be sure that if you left the closing table and you had a check, you felt good about it, and if you had just written a check, you felt good about it. He wasn't a win-lose person, he was a win-win person, and that is why he was such a great businessman and such a great entrepreneur.

   He was a great friend and a giant of a friend to me. I met him 50 years ago next month.

   This may sound funny, but it is a great story. He worked for the Georgia Power Company, and I worked for a small real estate company called Northside Realty Associates. Our first two jobs--his with Georgia Power and mine with Northside--were to hold open the total electric house of the year in 1967. That meant that we drew the last straw, and every night, from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m., we held the houses open in hopes that someone would come to look at them. The electric utilities hoped someone would build a totally electric house. It was a marketing tool. It was the first time they had ever done it, and we enjoyed doing it and I got to know John.

   I remember the nights when John talked about what he wanted to be, how he wanted to build a company, how he wanted to be an entrepreneur, how he wanted to be a real estate developer, and how he wanted to make things better. We got to be good friends. In fact, I sold him a 4-acre piece of land where he built the house he lived in for years before he built the home he was in today. I participated with him in another real estate transaction he did and helped him with some of the properties he put together. I always found him to be a win-win guy.

   He was my friend, he was my supporter, and he was my confidante. He was also my greatest critic. Every politician in America should be lucky enough to have a John Williams , because John will tell you what you want to hear, but he tells you what you don't want to hear. When you are on the wrong track, he will straighten you out.

   Sure, he could write checks all day long. But the Presiding Officer and I know that it is not just the checks that they write. It is the advice they give, and it is the passions they have. When you find somebody who has a passion for their family, a passion for building businesses, a passion for their community, and a passion for everything that is good about America, you have found somebody you want to keep close to you. For 50 years, I stayed close to John Williams .

   When I got the news about John Williams before I boarded a plane on Monday to come up here, I started crying--that is how close he was to me--but so did everybody else I ran into that day or have talked to on the phone since being back home. Everybody misses John and was shocked by his going. But realizing the troubles and the difficulties that he had had in recent years--back surgeries and things of that nature--and realizing, like all of us do at that age, when you are 74, which I am, that you know time is running out. You just don't know how fast it is running out. But it is a good example of how you always want to be ready whenever that day comes and know the legacy you left was a better legacy than the one you inherited.

   John was a man of modest means at his birth. When he graduated from high school in the public schools of Georgia and went to the Georgia Institute of Technology--better known as Georgia Tech--he graduated with debt and a modest means but with great values and great principles.

   The story about the flowers was all because of his mom, who wanted to landscape everything and make it look pretty and beautiful--proof that it didn't take a lot of money to make things look good; it took a lot of heart.

   I am sad today, and all of Georgia is sad today, and they will be even sadder on Monday when we say good-bye to John Williams . But all of us should hope and all of us should pray that all of us have the time in our lives to know somebody as good, as decent, as honorable, and as compassionate for their community and as a lover of their country as John A. Williams of Atlanta, GA, my good friend.

   God bless you, John, and God bless the United States of America.

   I yield the floor.