Former ATA Chairman Bill Watson dies at 85
Wednesday, August 06, 2014
Posted by: Ford Boswell
Former Alabama Trucking Association Chairman of the Board William (Bill) Watson of Anniston, Ala. died August 3 after a brief illness at his home in Anniston, Ala. He was 85.
Watson was a beloved and respected member of the Association who served as its Chairman in 2005, sitting on numerous committees and task forces. He also received ATA's lifetime achievement honor, the H. Chester Webb Award for Distinguished Service in 2000.
He was known in trucking circles for his good-nature and warm demeanor, but also as a solid businessman who had a knack for building great trucking operations.
He retired from B.R. Williams Trucking in Oxford, Ala. in 2009 after 38 years with the company. All total, he spent nearly 50 years in the trucking business.
Watson joined the Association in 1961 and was an ardent supporter his entire career. Under his leadership, B.R. Williams and its employees received numerous awards for safety, including Alabama Driver of the Year Awards in 1973 and 1989; and Safety Professional of the Year Awards in 1989 and 2001. Likewise, the company’s insurance carrier, Liberty Mutual, also presented it with several Silver and Gold Awards for exceptional safety record while under Mr. Watson’s leadership.
He was also a highly respected community leader in Calhoun County where he was active with the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, serving many years as a board member.
He worked tirelessly on behalf of the Chamber to keep Fort McClellan open when it was announced in the mid-1990s that the Army had plans to close it. He fought valiantly for four years to save thousands of civilian jobs at the Fort and millions in local revenue. However, those efforts failed in 1999 when the base was closed permanently. He then switched his efforts to focus on the proper reuse of that important property and recruiting new businesses to the area.
For his efforts, he was awarded the 1995 Chairman’s Cup, an award presented to a Chamber of Commerce Board Member who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in making significant contributions on behalf of the Chamber.
Mr. Watson attended Jacksonville State University where he played football until a knee injury ended his career. After college, he married and began a career in trucking managing a small fleet of over-the-road trucks for a grocery store supplier. As that operation grew, he leased trucks to Georgia Highway Express in 1957. Following that, he led the transportation department at Alabama Pipe Co.
Then in 1971, he received a call from Ruth Williams, a recently widowed, former schoolteacher who was looking for an experienced manager to help with her trucking company. Williams’ husband B.R. (or Bill, as he was known) had recently died from severe burns he received in a shop accident. Mrs. Williams had always been involved with the business as a bookkeeper, but was overwhelmed with the idea of running a trucking business on her own, especially as a young widow with several small children.
At the time, the company was operating nine trucks for one main customer. Williams wanted to bring someone with more experience on the trucking side into the fold to share the workload and to help lay a foundation for expansion and growth.
Under Watson, the company grew not only in operations and size, but also in stature within the trucking industry. Today, the company is among the largest and most respected trucking operations in the state. Several of its fleet managers serve on ATA’s leadership board, including Jack Brim, who also served as ATA Chairman in 2013, and current company president Greg Brown.
Brown said Watson was responsible for much of the company’s early success. “He always exemplified integrity, honesty, and tireless dedication to enhance the operations for B.R. Williams,” he said. “This included filling a driver’s seat whenever the need became necessary throughout his 38 year career at B.R. Williams.”
Watson touched many lives throughout his life. Those who knew him best say he never met a stranger and enjoyed life to the fullest. He loved the trucking business, his Honda Goldwing motorcycle, University of Alabama football, NASCAR, pontoon boating on the river, his old Ford truck and his dog Daisy.
At 75, he even fulfilled a life-long dream of motorcycling up the West Coast from California to Canada and along the Ice Highway.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Herman and Ellie Mae Watson; his first wife, Carol Tanner Watson; son, William Lee Watson; and brother, Herman Watson Jr.
He is survived by his wife, Minnie L. Watson; son, Brain K. Watson, daughter-in-law, Sally Minshew Watson; and grandchildren, Will and Sarah Watson, of Greenville, S.C.
Memorials can be made to the Presbyterian Children's Home in Talladega or the Cerebral Palsy Center of East Central Alabama.