Joseph H. Williams

Former Williams CEO Joseph H. Williams dies at 89

TULSA – Former Williams Chairman and CEO Joseph H. “Joe” Williams, the last member of the Williams family to head the Tulsa-based company, died recently at the age of 89.

The son of David Williams, one of the original co-founders of Williams, Joe Williams followed his cousin John Williams as CEO and served in the role from 1979 to 1994, when he retired. He had been with the company for a total of 35 years.

“Joe was a great leader and set Williams up for long-term success with his ability to focus on the horizon. He had the right mix of optimism for the future and hard-nose questioning of the status quo to keep the organization both inspired and on its toes,” current Williams President and CEO Alan Armstrong said. “His intellectual curiosity kept the company truly embracing change for the opportunities it offered. The Williams culture of doing things right and taking care of the environment is alive and well today thanks to Joe’s strong leadership and foresight.”

Williams served as executive vice president from 1968 to 1971 and as chief operating officer from 1971 to 1978.

When he became CEO, he anticipated challenges of the late 1980s and early ’90s and through restructuring and resetting goals was able to guide the company through a chaotic period in the pipeline and energy industries. Among other things, under his leadership Williams acquired Northwest Pipeline and embraced technology that allowed the company to become the first to use satellite communications for field operations.

Williams also supported policies and programs to benefit the environment. In the late 1980s, he marshaled efforts to purchase the 29,000-acre Barnard Ranch in Osage County, allowing Oklahoma’s Nature Conservancy to create its flagship sanctuary, the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. It now encompasses 40,000 acres and is home to 2,500 bison.

“Joe was the last family member to lead the company and felt a real stewardship responsibility with regard to that,” said Keith Bailey, who succeeded Joe Williams and was chairman and CEO from 1994 to 2002. “His personal passion revolved around his leadership of the Nature Conservancy, both locally and nationally. Perhaps his proudest moment I saw over the years was when he was awarded a ceremonial blanket by Chief Standing Bear to celebrate his role in the creation of the Tallgrass Prairie.”

Williams was honored for his work in 2015 when the Nature Conservancy renamed the preserve in Osage County the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.

His legacy also is recognized at Tulsa’s Gathering Place. The main hall of the Williams Lodge, where community events and social functions take place, is named the Joseph H. Williams Community Room.

Williams is survived by his wife, Terry; three sons and two stepdaughters – Joseph H. Williams Jr., Peter B. Williams, James C. Williams, Margot T. Rose and Jennifer B. Ross; and seven grandchildren.