From time to time, Chad Daniels, director of the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum at Camp Shelby, will receive calls or emails from family members of deceased veterans. They’re frequently looking to donate uniforms, medals, photos and more of their loved ones during their years of service.
When Carol Williams offered to donate her late husband David’s collection, Daniels found the materials and story warranted a special exhibit.
On Thursday, the museum dedicated a special exhibit for Lt. Col. David Williams, who retired from the U. S. Air Force in 1991 and from Mississippi Power in 2004.
“Not only was Lt. Col. Williams a member of the National Guard, but he was also a Hurricane Hunter in the Air Force Reserve,” Daniels said. “When you combine his service with his experiences at Mississippi Power, you have a man that bridged the military, business and civic communities.”
At the ceremony, Carol Williams remembered the couples’ early life, including his job offer from Mississippi Power.
“He accepted the job and then had to turn around and tell that vice president that he needed to attend flight training school in Texas,” Williams said. “But they told David not to worry and that he’d have a job when he got back. David was scared he’d have to pick one or the other, but he was able to work at two places that he absolutely loved.”
Williams began his career at Mississippi Power as an electrical engineer in 1966. In 1981, he was promoted to general manager of the Hattiesburg District, a position he held until 1995. Williams spent the remainder of his time at the company as the manager of Wholesale Marketing.
During his career Williams distinguished himself as a member of the Mississippi Society of Professional Engineers, the National Management Association, and the Forrest County Industrial Development Board.
He was also highly involved in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the Hattiesburg Chamber of Commerce, the American Red Cross, the Boy Scouts, and was a member of the Hattiesburg Rotary Club.
Mike Collins, now director of Corporate Services, replaced Williams as general manager of the Hattiesburg District in 1995. Collins remembers the daunting task of following in Williams’ footsteps.
“David was an effective and respected leader in the business community of Hattiesburg,” Collins said. “It seems like everywhere I went, someone had a story about how David helped them out on a project or volunteered to make an event successful.”
Jim Patton, who retired from Mississippi Power in 2006, began his career in Meridian with Williams in the late 1960s. The two had much in common, including their military service, and became fast friends. Patton fondly recalled how no one ever had a cross word for Williams.
“Everybody respected David,” Patton said. “He was an integral part in the company’s success in the community. He was someone you could count on for nearly 40 years. He was special.”
Current Pine Belt Division Manager Jason Lee met Williams when he was a child. Williams and Jason’s father Robert flew together as Hurricane Hunters. Williams and the rest of the Hurricane Hunters made an early impression on the then 10-year-old Lee.
“In my mind, these men and women were heroes,” Lee said. “They put their lives on the line to fly into hurricanes and arctic storms in the name of public safety. What they did, and still do today, gives people around the world the opportunity to find safe harbor from nature’s most destructive forces.”
When Lee first joined the company as a co-op student, he says he was comforted that he already had an early mentor who could provide advice.
“Throughout the years and even after he retired from the company, Dave was always willing to offer sound advice and sincere words of encouragement,” Lee added. “His character and integrity made a tremendous impression on my life.”
The exhibit and the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum are open to the public with free admission Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.