Atlanta developer John A. Williams 'was larger than life'

By Maria Saporta

John A. Williams would have loved his memorial service.

Family and friends gathered Monday at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Buckhead to remember the 75-year-old apartment developer who died on April 16.

“He was larger than life, but most of all my father was a builder,” Jay Williams told a full sanctuary. “He built companies – two great ones.”

John Williams founded Post Properties when he was only 26 working out of an IHOP because he didn’t have an office. The second company Williams founded was Preferred Apartment Communities, which his son described as the most successful REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) in the country.

Jay Willia

Jay Williams speaks at his father’s memorial service (Photo by Maria Saporta_

Former Gov. Roy Barnes remembered visiting Williams at the IHOP and hearing of his various business and civic ventures.

“Meeting and knowing John Williams is one of the highlights of my life,” Barnes said, remembering how Williams would say: “This is what we are going to do. You figure out a way to do it.”

Barnes said the people who attended the service were representative of the special relationships Williams had in the community – remarking that he was a former Democratic governor who was speaking at the same service as Johnny Isakson, a Republican U.S. Senator.

“In business, John could see beyond the next horizon, and he was seldom wrong. I watched him over 45 years,” Barnes said. “Over the years, John became not only my client but one of my best friends.”

Isakson also described Williams as one of his closest friends, someone he got to know in 1968. At the time, Isakson was with Northside Realty and Williams had an idea of starting an apartment company but setting it apart from others communities by having beautiful landscaping, including tulips and other flowers.

Isakson said three qualities mattered to Williams – loyalty, investment and hard work. “I will miss him dearly every day,” he said.

One of the most moving moments came when Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank spoke.

“John Williams was a man who has been like a brother to me,” Blank said. “John and I had a lot in common. We both lost our fathers at a young age. We both lost our companies and worked (to create new enterprises). “He went through a divorces and marriages almost at the same time as I did. We were connected through a set of shared values. He had a competitive spirit, and he loved to win at everything…. He love Atlanta. He truly loved Atlanta.”

Blank also said that it was Williams who introduced him to the former owner of the Atlanta Falcons – Rankin Smith – and played a key role in Blank’s purchase of the professional football team (of which Williams was a minority owner).

Arthur Blank

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank says good=bye to hid brother John Williams (Photo by Maria Saporta)

In describing Williams, Blank said: “I knew the rules, but the rules didn’t know me. John was always going to get there first.”

And then Blank reflected on a quote from Dr. Seuss. “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory,” Blank said. “I loved my moments with John. These moments achieved a value that can never be measured.”

His son, Jay, said his father lived to work.

“He was driven. He was demanding,” the younger Williams said. “My father was a builder of relationships. Everything he accomplished, it was based on relationships.”

Jay Williams said three things mattered most to his father: working hard, being more than fair and having fun. Every Saturday, he had a routine – to write down his goals and priorities on a legal yellow pad.

“He has done this exact same routine since 1978,” Jay Williams said. “The last one he wrote was the week before he went to the hospital.”

Jay also gave a special shout-out to Williams’ executive assisting – Jodi Willoughby.

“I don’t know how you did it all these years Jodi, but he was lucky to have you.” He described his father as hilarious, ridiculous, annoying, feisty and fun who had a way of inspiring others.

John A. Williams

John A. Williams

Dr. Vic Pentz, pastor emeritus of Peachtree Presbyterian, thanked Williams for all he had done for the church. “Without John, we would not have that stoplight out there on Roswell Road (a state road)… Thank you Gov. Barnes.”

Pentz went on to say that when he was in Williams presence, he would feel more alive. Some people have more destiny than others,” he concluded.

Richard Kannwischer, senior pastor of the church, spoke of having lunch at the Blue Ridge Grill with Williams, where he would hold court. Kannwischer thought he was special, but since 2005, Williams ate at the Blue Ridge Grill more than 2,800 times.

Williams is survived by his wife Nancy, his son Jay and daughter-in-law Mary, daughter Sarah Brook and a soon-to-be son in law Paul Austin, as well as his son Parker and grandsons: Jack and Harrison.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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