Family and friends pay tribute to the memory of Hugh Williams
University Heights resident Hugh Richard Williams IV was laid to rest June 23 after a memorial service at Cedar Hill Baptist Church, where he had been a member. Williams was 43 years old and died after a battle with an aggressive form of cancer.
Williams was active in many community organizations and his children’s school, Gearity Professional Development School. He served on the boards of FutureHeights, Open Doors Academy and the Thea Bowman Center. He was a member of the 2008 Cleveland Bridge Builders Flagship Class.
Williams was the first University Heights resident to serve on the board of FutureHeights, which added the city to its service area when it launched the Heights Observer. “I’d like to see the area (including UH) become THE place to live for progressive-minded, intellectually stimulated people of all origins,” Williams wrote in his board application.
Williams, the fourth of five children, was born in 1969 at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi, into a military family and a long line of preachers. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were ministers.
Early on, Williams demonstrated leadership ability and seriousness of purpose. He excelled at sports, and he was class president and student council president at Avondale High School in Atlanta, Georgia. Deidre Henry, a childhood friend, remembered how happy she was when he moved into her suburban neighborhood. “Another dark face, like mine,” she said, “and we would have serious conversations walking home from school.” A photo of Williams from the 1980s displayed at the funeral showed him in his baseball uniform, a young confident athlete sporting his characteristic determined look. “He was my first black president,” Henry said. “And he took his job seriously.”
“He had great earnestness and an awesome sense of humor,” said Henry. “His nickname was Buddy. He made everyone feel like they were the most important person in the world.”
Williams attended the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and graduated in 1990 with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering and sociology. He served for three years as an artillery officer in the 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. He was a paratrooper and air assault qualified.
In 1995, Williams relocated to Cleveland as part of a team to open a new branch for the McMaster-Carr Supply Company. He served as the company’s operations manager for 13 years. While at McMaster, Williams earned an MBA from John Carroll University.
Traci Rourke, who worked with him, said, “His laugh, his expressions, that twinkle in his eye brought people together.”
Williams worked for INROADS, a national nonprofit internship-recruiting organization, and then became the vice president of operations for the Cleveland Foodbank. “Hugh was obsessed with improvement, a strategic thinker, and serious about operations,” said Anne Goodman, president of the Foodbank.
Goodman credited Williams with improving inventory management and implementing technology and processes that enabled the organization to grow. “He was touched by and driven about feeding hungry people. I learned from him and was inspired by him. He gave the community a better food bank,” she said.
“Hugh was one of the best people I’ve ever known. He had a way of making his point in a very diplomatic, nonconfrontational manner. He was compassionate and tireless in encouraging people to do just a little bit more,” said Judi Miles, a FutureHeights board member. “I’ve missed his presence on the board. Hugh loved University Heights and encouraged us to be part of the annual Memorial Day Parade, which we’ve done every year since. He had such a big life, and had such a big impact in a short time.”
“Hugh always talked about his kids," said FutureHeights board member Lisa Smith. “He served on the development committee and chaired the auction. He always had a can-do attitude, where there was a will there was a way. Everything he did was for something greater. He clearly had a vision for that.”
Williams was the percussionist for the Cedar Hill Baptist Church’s Praise Team. Robert Hubbard, a member of the Praise Team, played the drums in a musical tribute of “When the Saints Go Marching In” at the funeral. “He was ‘that guy,’ the guy who had it all together, the guy I wanted to be,” he said.
“Hugh took his faith seriously,” said Reverend Larry Green, pastor of Cedar Hill Baptist Church. “When people came to visit him in the hospital, he ministered to them. He told me that he worried that he had not spread the Gospel enough, and when he got sick he had a greater sense of urgency.” The pastor read passages from William’s own well-used Bible, that Williams had marked specifically for the occasion.
Williams was a devoted husband and father. His wife April said that Williams was deliberate in everything he did. He wrote his own obituary, and planned his own ceremony. She said that when she was pregnant with their third child, they had put their University Heights home on the market, hoping to move to a larger house. “But it didn’t happen,” she said. “We don’t know why it didn’t happen but we are glad we stayed. Our community was so supportive. Hugh loved this community.”
Deanna Bremer Fisher
Deanna Bremer Fisher had the priviledge of working with Hugh Williams as executive director of FutureHeights and publisher of the Heights Observer.