Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Celebrating Women in Trucking: How BR Williams’ matriarch saved the family business

Editor’s Note: March is Women’s History Month. To celebrate, we offer this short piece spotlighting a true Alabama trucking hero: Ruth Williams, a wife, mother and former school teacher who steadied the ship of her family’s trucking business after the tragic death of her husband and company founder B.R. “Bill” Williams. Women like Mrs. Williams have impacted the trucking and logistics industry for years, and in recent times have gained more extensive representation in a traditionally male-dominated profession. 

Modern transportation and logistics have been around since the late 19th century but only gained steam with women towards the end of World War I. Back then, only about 20 percent of women worked outside the home, and only 5 percent of those were married. Typical thinking was trucking was just not a job most women sought. In fact, at the time, much of where and when women worked, in general, was regulated.

As the war continued, women began to shift into non-traditional careers out of necessity and the urgent need to fill vacancies left by men off to fight the war overseas. Women increasingly took on industrial jobs, including warehouse work and trucking. World War I gave many women an opportunity to prove their capabilities in roles they were previously considered unsuitable.

Today, advancements of women in the trucking and transportation industry are more apparent but still not equal – especially in leadership roles. Here in Alabama, during the 1960s, however, a woman named Ruth Williams took over her family’s trucking business because she had to and worked for many years building it to become one of the state’s most respected operations.

Ruth and B.R. Williams

In July of 1958, Bill Williams established his trucking operation known today as BR Williams. He experienced all the issues and growing pains of owning a new business, but after only five years of operation, a shop fire took his life. His widow, Ruth, then an elementary school teacher, was advised to walk away from the business because of all the damage that the fire caused. However, she knew that the people who worked for the company relied on their jobs, and she desperately wanted to stay in business for them and to honor the work of her late husband. Despite the many obstacles she knew she’d face as a female operating a trucking business, she retired from teaching and became the owner and president of BR Williams.

For years, she managed the operation, made wise business decisions, and hired the right people to take the company to the next level. After years of challenges associated with raising her daughters as a single mother and running the business on her own, Ruth began to see the fruits of her labor. The company grew by leaps and bounds.

In 1992, the time came for Ruth to pass the baton to the individuals who had the wisdom and bravery to carry on the legacy begun so many years ago. She looked no further than her son-in-law, Greg Brown, and daughters Dee Brown and Kaye Perry who had grown up in the business. This decision would take the company to heights Bill never could have imagined.

Last July, BR Williams celebrated its 63rd year of business, and the company forever respects the strength of Ruth Williams and the sacrifices she made to continue her husband’s business. 

We will never know just how hard the days were for Ruth as a female trucking owner in the 60s, 70s and 80s. For sure, she didn’t take the easy road – she made her own. Her legacy is a worthy reminder of the strength, determination and talent of women truckers everywhere.