By Fred Woods
It has been said that, in the United States, the only job more important than that of President of the United States is that of its citizens. Warner Williams took his job of citizen seriously and fulfilled it with best of his considerable ability. Maybe not so much at national and state levels, but certainly in Opelika and Lee County.
Warner was best known in his business career for his work in banking, serving customers of Opelika’s Farmers National Bank for 30 years, and served as its president from 1990-1998. He was widely recognized as one of the community’s leading bankers and an advocate for community banks.
Williams also served in leadership positions for numerous community and service organizations in the Opelika and Lee County area. He was president of the Opelika Chamber of Commerce and a long-time Kiwanian, also serving as president of that civic club. In recognition of his service and accomplishments in these areas, he was honored in 2004 with the Opelika Chamber of Commerce’s Distinguished Service Award.
But it was Williams’ service on the Opelika Utility Board that was perhaps his most significant legacy. From the time of his appointment in 1983, Williams served with the utmost distinction. He served as chairman for nearly half of this time. He studied, observed and asked the right questions, making himself into a water systems expert. In 2013, Opelika named its new state-of-the-art water treatment plant after him. The W. Warner Williams Water Resource Park was dedicated in May 2013 and serves as a lasting tribute to this great citizen of Opelika.
Dan Hilyer, General Manager of Opelika Utilities, said of Warner, “… in my lifetime there has never been a better ambassador for the city of Opelika. Mr. Williams worked almost every day to better the city as a whole, not just the Utilities Board. He did it to better Opelika and better the living experience Opelikians have today. He did that wothout being asked and without asking for recognition. Not many people are like that. He was a genuinely good person.”
And Williams didn’t limit his service to Opelika. As Lee County Commissioner Robert Ham recalls, when the Beulah Utilities Board was having serious problems a few years ago, Warner called him. “Warner said, ‘Dan and I know water systems. Would you like to sit down with us and discus how to address your problems in Beulah?’”
Of course, Ham accepted. He recently stated: “I needed someone I could trust and rely on for sound advice and I knew Warner was that man. He helped me make the decisions I need to make to help the Beulah Utility Board work its way out of a serious bind.”
Warner was an Opelikian from beginning to end. He was born here in 1933 and died at East Alabama Medical Center last week after a brief illness. He graduated from Opelika’s Henry G. Clift High School in 1951. He earned a B.S. degree in industrial management from Auburn University when it was still known as Alabama Polytechnic Institute. After a tour in the U.S. Army, Williams returned to Opelika where he began his distinguished careers in business and public service.
Warner was always known for his broad smile and ability and desire to engage with people from all walks of life. For a man of relatively small stature, he leaves extremely large shoes to fill. Warner Williams, we’ll miss you.