Charlie Williams, 100, didn’t know he was being interviewed when he walked into the Statesboro Herald newsroom recently. Thinking he was just visiting, he looked around and said “Time doesn’t stand still.”
The newspaper office had changed drastically from when he was much younger, when brothers G.C and Leodel Coleman ran the “Bulloch Herald,” founded in 1927, in what is now known as the Simmons Shopping Center.
“The newspaper was just one sheet,” he said. “It was sold in news stands, not delivered.”
Looking around at today’s modern conveniences such as computers and cell phones, he said “Things sure have changed around here. I remember being interviewed years ago for something or the other by Leodel Coleman.”
decades later, Williams’ memory is not hampered by time. Always happy to share
his thoughts, he began talking with a decided sparkle in the eyes that have now
seen a century pass.
Coleman grew up in Savannah during the Great Depression after World War I.
“That was when the country was broke, but I thought that was the way it was supposed to be,” he said. He grew up knowing how to work and earn what he wanted and needed.
As a boy, “I earned 25 cents to go to the movies, and that got you the show, popcorn and a candy bar.” When he became older, he and a friend would buy a case of chewing gum at a corner store, then sell the individual packs at the theater, earning enough cash to reap a profit and spend some on themselves.
His father was an electrician, and his mother was a seamstress. “She made hats too,” he said. “There was wire (and other materials for hat making) all over the house.”
When he grew older, Williams, like many young men his age, joined the military. “I served in WWII with General Patton in the Battle of the Bulge.” He traveled many places as he toured in the European Theater, and one memory was the weather. “It was below zero degrees in Germany.”
He also had two brothers in the service. Pages of memories flipped through his mind as he went back to those days.
“I saw people there who were hungry. I went to the PX and bought food and gave it to them- and they were considered the enemy,” he said.
Williams was back in Savannah when he met his wife, Miriam Smith of Furman, SC.
“Not Furman the university,” he said with a chuckle. He met Smith, who was training to be a nurse at the time, at a basketball game, and ended up giving her a ride home. On the way they stopped for a drink at a soda shop, but Williams didn’t expect to ever see her again, he said.
But “Later, she asked my brother to tell me to get in touch,” he said. “I called her, and she asked me out.”
Apparently the attraction was mutual, because it wasn’t long before Williams found himself walking along the beach in Savannah with matrimony in mind. “I asked her to marry me right there on the beach.”
The couple moved to Statesboro in 1953. Williams was working as a salesman with Nabisco, a career he kept for over 35 years until retirement. Throughout that time he also volunteered with Boys Scouts of America.
Life after retirement
After over three decades of hard work, however, Williams decided to stop working so hard and enjoy life. His family had grown to include two sons – Bobby and Rick – and by the time they were adults, it was time to find out what the world offered for a retiree.
“I can truthfully say I have done everything I wanted to do,” Williams said. He and his wife traveled, including visits overseas, and took the time to appreciate things.
He could have continued working, but decided to relax. “I turned several jobs down. I wanted to enjoy traveling and life during peace times. During the war we went from one country to the next and I never knew where I was at,” he said.
Throughout the years, however, he observed his surroundings as changes made their way into his life. He watched as social mores changed and fads appeared and passed.
He understood there would be changes in life, but “I didn’t realize it would happen so fast,” he said.
He saw new technology continue to make the former products obsolete, such as the evolution of music from vinyl records to 8 tracks, cassettes, CDs and now through digital means.
“I remember the first time I saw TV antennaes on top of houses,” he said. It wasn’t in Statesboro, but another town. He asked a friend “Why are those steeples on the roofs?”
The friend explained the concept of television and how it worked. Williams was skeptical. “I thought he’d had too many drinks.”
He recalls the old Statesboro, before the university grew, back when the main streets downtown were the hub of activity and “when tobacco was king.” He spoke of the tobacco markets and the impact they had on the community in the past. “You don’t see tobacco grown anymore.”
Williams was present when the beginning of a local church was just an idea: Pittman Park United Methodist Church began “as an idea discussed by Bird Daniel, Bunny Cone and others sitting over a cup of coffee,” he said.
Other memories still stand prominent in the centenarian’s mind. His eyes dance as he tells about meeting Jack Dempsey in a New York bar that Dempsey owned. “He was very patriotic,” he said.
Another fond memory was when he attended what was supposed to be a Bennie Goodman concert in Charleston, but for some unforeseen reason Goodman wasn’t there. “I talked to his replacement,” Williams said. When he ended the conversation, the “replacement” introduced himself. “He said, ‘I am Frank Sinatra.’ That was when he wasn’t even well known yet.”
Advice for longevity
When asked how he made it to be 100 and be so active and lively, Williams’ mischievous smile warned of humor coming. “I drank good liquor and ran with good women,” he said. But he was quick to make sure anyone listening knew he was joking.
In reality, in his younger years, “I smoked and drank and did it all,” he admitted. “But I found out later that was not for me.” He abandoned bad habits, worked hard all his life until retirement, and then still stayed active as he traveled and made the most out of life, he said.
“I was the puniest (of his three siblings) but I never had to go to the doctor,” he said. “I had a lot of good help.” He pointed to the heavens.
Advice for younger folks? “Find something you enjoy and stick with it.” Too many people work a few years at a job and move along to another, with no goals or investment in their experience, he said.
Williams was lauded recently at a gathering of friends and family where he was recognized by several, including Bulloch County Commissioner Walter Gibson and Sen. Jack Hill.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at 912-489-9414.