Unfortunately this has been a very difficult week for my family. We lost our leader, mentor and friend. My Granddad was a remarkable man. I miss him dearly. The following obituary was written by his son, my Dad, in his honor.
Born Aug. 1, 1925, to Gordon and Cassie Williams, he grew up in rural Rockingham and Caswell counties during the Depression-era hard times. He changed schools often but developed a love for books and adventure. He once worked as an usher for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus in Sarasota, Fla., but his mother’s protestations eventually persuaded him to come home.
Hal’s youthful endeavors came to an end when he was drafted into the Army in January 1944 and sent to Camp Croft, S.C., where he endured 17 weeks of basic infantry and anti-tank training. He volunteered for jump school at Fort Benning, Ga., and made the qualifying parachute jumps and then volunteered for Riggers School, thinking that packing parachutes would be safer. But the Army instead sent him to a school where he learned Morse code messaging and radio communications. Eventually he was shipped as a replacement to England and assigned to the 194th Glider Infantry of the 17th Airborne Division.
That got him into the fight in Bastogne, Belgium, and eventually into the Battle of the Bulge with the 517th Signal Company. Hal said he was lucky that he was helping set up message centers, because the Germans inflicted heavy casualties on the front-line troops, and as he wrote in a memoir, he “witnessed the indescribable horrors of warfare.” He was discharged in January 1946, sent back to Fort Bragg and hitchhiked home.
After the war, he went to work for Hastings Furniture Co. in Reidsville and enrolled in Elon College to study business. In 1950, he married Woman’s College student Merle Elizabeth Howe, and they embarked on a loving relationship that kept them together for 64 years. Hal’s successful business career took off after he managed one in a chain of State Furniture stores in downtown Reidsville, and the Winston-Salem based company promoted him to general manager of all the stores, including one on Elm Street in Greensboro.
In 1972, he got a chance to operate his own business, Riverview Furniture and Interiors, in Durham. The retail store survived the trend of big-box furniture marketing that forced many independent stores in the Triangle area to fail. Hal knew what to buy at the High Point Market (he never missed attending one) and how to manage inventory, and he worked hard to cultivate repeat customers. Merle would later join the business as an interior decorating consultant and accessory buyer. They retired to Reidsville in 2006 after Hal sold the store, with the stipulation that the buyer would keep all of his employees.
When Hal wasn’t working in his store, he enjoyed his family, which included three sons. He helped coach their Little League teams and took them on vacation trips to games in Washington and Baltimore. He became an avid Baltimore Orioles fan and followed the team by watching every TV game he could in his retirement years. He also loved ACC basketball, and after all those years in Durham, Duke became his favorite team.
During retirement he also became interested in U.S. foreign policy, paying special attention to the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq, a move he did not favor. He did extensive reading on the subject and wrote a paper about the neoconservatives who pushed for the war.
Throughout his life, Hal attended church faithfully and was a member of Woodmont Methodist in Reidsville. He was a compassionate man who reached out to the underprivileged. It is said that he never met a stranger. His sense of humor and desire to communicate with people and show interest in their lives played a large role in his business success.
Hal is survived by his wife, Merle Elizabeth Williams of the home; sons, Bob Williams of Greensboro and Steve Williams and wife Mary Lynn of Reidsville; grandchildren, Brooks Williams and wife Melissa of Whitsett; Kellie DeLapp and husband Jeremy of Reidsville; Garrett Williams and wife Becca of Matthews; Neal Williams and wife Anna of Astoria, N.Y.
Hal had four great-grandchildren, Ella Kate and Kassie Mae DeLapp of Reidsville, Carolina Brooke Williams of Whitsett and Benjamin Reid Williams of Matthews.
He was preceded in death by a son, David Reid Williams, and a brother, Lawrence Williams.
Services will be at 11 a.m. Friday at Woodmont Methodist Church. Following that, there will be a private burial ceremony at Reidlawn Cemetery. The Rev. Morris Brown will officiate the services.
The family welcomes friends to join them from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Wilkerson Funeral Home in Reidsville and other times at the home.
Memorials may be made in Hal’s memory to Woodmont Methodist Church and The Salvation Army.
The family would like to thank the staffs of Moses Cone Annie Penn Hospital and Hospice of Rockingham County for their dedicated services and kindness during Hal’s final days and the many health care professionals who attended to his long-term treatment.
Online condolences can be made at www.wilkersonfuneral.com.