Joe Williams

May 8, 1937 – February 8, 2017


Joe Williams, much loved husband, father, grandfather, community leader and friend, left our world last Wednesday morning. Joe was born on May 8, 1937, in Biloxi, MS. When he was nine years old, Joe and his family moved to California, settling in Fresno, CA.

Joe attended Edison High School, and after graduating, enlisted in the United States Army. Upon completing his military service, he attended Fresno City College where he played football and earned a scholarship to play at Fresno State College earning his Bachelor of Arts degree.

Joe began his early career with the Fresno County Welfare Department. After several years, he became Director of the North Avenue
Community Center. In 1968, he began a 26 year career with the Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission when he was appointed Director of the Fresno County Head StartProgram.

In 1970, he was appointed the Executive Director of the Commission. Under his leadership EOC grew to more than 45 programs providing essential services to low-income families. During his tenure, EOC employed over 800 employees and he led the development of many programs and services such as the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC), the first rural health clinic in Fresno County, and Meals on Wheels for Homebound Seniors. Joe also established the Sanctuary Program for homeless youth. The Sanctuary was officially renamed The Joe Williams Center in his honor upon his retirement. Under Joe’s direction, EOC increased revenues tenfold to over $40 million annual budget for the benefit of low income families, emphasizing job development, early childhood education and family health. EOC became a model for other Community Action Programs across the nation and became the fourth largest of its kind in thenation.

During this period he served as President of the California/Nevada Community Action Association, where he played a key leadership role in establishing justice and equity for California’s low-income population. Joe became the first African American elected to the Fresno City Council. He served two consecutive terms from 1977 to 1985. He was voted by his Council peers to serve as Mayor Pro-Tem for two years, from 1984 and 1985.

In 1994, Joe joined Richard Heath and Associates, Inc., a privately owned company. During his tenure at RHA, he served as CEO until 2005, managing a budget of $150 million providing energy efficiency, health and telecommunications services to more than two million low income households in California. Under Joe’s leadership, RHA was the recipient of the Excellence in Business Award presented by the Fresno Bee in 2004.

In addition, Joe, along with two life long friends and Edison High School Class of 1956 graduates, Dr. James Aldredge, and James Hendricks, formed HAW-Fifty-Six to provide services and housing in the west Fresno community where all three grew up. HAW-Fifty-Six, along with business developer, Tom Richards, built the Edison HAW Plaza, a regional center and library, located on California and Walnut Avenues. The group, in partnership with the Fresno Housing Authority, recently completed the first phase of a multifamily apartment complex in west Fresno, Legacy Commons.

Well known in the Fresno Community as a leader, businessman, volunteer, mentor, and friend to countless individuals, Joe dedicated his life to serving the needs of his community and was especially driven to leverage resources to maximize services to those less fortunate. Throughout his career he devoted his time, energy and resources to numerous service organizations and projects.
Those who knew Joe often spoke of his integrity, intelligence, resourcefulness and special likability.

Joe served on numerous Boards and Commissions including, Premier Valley Bank as Founding Board Member; Community Medical
Center on the Board of Trustees; Fresno Heart and Surgical Hospital Board Member; CSUF Foundation Board Member; CSUF President’s Advisory Council; State Center Community College Foundation Chancellor’s Circle; State Center Community College Foundation; Fresno Chamber of Commerce; and the Fresno Business Council.

Joe was the recipient of countless honors and awards throughout his career, a few of which included the Leon S. Peters Award for lifetime achievement in business and community service; Fresno City College Distinguished Alumnus Award; CSUF Outstanding Alumnus Award; and CSUF President’s Medal of Distinction. An avid reader, Joe also enjoyed many years of golfing with friends, attending Fresno State Bulldog basketball and football games, and dining out with Laura, family and friends. He especially
loved spending time with his grandchildren and he was tremendously proud of their achievements.

Joe was preceded in death by his parents, Brooke Lee Starks, and Charlie Williams; and a sister, Audrey Parrish. His brother, George McGinnis recently passed away on 2/14/17.

He is survived by Laura, his wife of 40 years; sons, Michael Williams and his wife Dr. Sonya Pettus Williams, and Winston Jade Williams; daughter, Terri Williams; grandchildren, Summer Williams, Kolbee Love, Michael Williams, and Jordan Williams; niece and like a sister, Donies Henry; many other nieces and nephews; and three great grandchildren.