| Florida Times-Union
Walter Lee Williams Jr., a former Jacksonville City Council president, JEA board chairman and real estate executive, went to work on the morning of his fatal boating accident.
His daughter, Monica Hentschel, said he was in a very good mood and wanted to discuss some ideas he had for helping people with physical disabilities.
Shortly afterward, he left to get his 26-foot boat from the shop where it was being serviced. The 84-year-old was driving the boat to his St. Johns County home when he struck the Buckman Bridge on Wednesday, Sept. 30. His body was found Friday, Oct. 2.
Hentschel said her father died doing what he loved — boating down the St. Johns River. He was also an avid water skier.
Mr. Williams was a successful business entrepreneur whose Walter Williams Coldwell Banker had 13 offices spanning Jacksonville to Palm Coast when he sold it in 2009. At the time of his death, he owned Estate Title and Trust, Walter Williams Property Management and another title and trust company in Gainesville.
Mr. Williams had the distinction of serving on the first city council after consolidation of city and county government in 1968. He also served a year as president.
“He loved this city and was very proud of his service on the council and of the decision to consolidate,” Hentschel said.
Over the years, he also was active in city and community affairs. As chairman of the JEA board in 1981, he went to Washington to accept the Congressional Energy Efficiency Award, his daughter said.
He had a first-rate mind which he used to good effect as board chairman, said Mike Clark, Times-Union editorial page editor.
Bobby Walton, a friend and business partner for 48 years, said Mr. Williams was very involved in promoting the bond issue for the coal-fired power plant on the Northside. The plant was demolished in 2020. He even took trips to New York to put it together, Walton said.
As a councilman, Mr. Williams always answered the phone when constituents called him at work, said Walton, who worked with him in various ventures, including land development, construction and as co-founders of what became Insuramerica in 1981.
He would listen very carefully and explain the issues and potential solutions. Many office seekers would come to him for advice, Walton said.
A Jacksonville native, Mr. Williams was born in 1936. He attended the University of Florida for a year or two and then went into the Marines for two years.
His family lived on Cassat Avenue, and his father was in real estate working from a one-room building that was in front of their house. When Mr. Williams told his father that he wanted to join the business, his father told him to “put a chair on the other side of the desk and get going,” Hentschel said. He did with a drive that made him a leader in the field.
Coldwell Banker pursued him to hold their franchise rights in Jacksonville and Walter Williams Realty became Walter Williams Coldwell Banker in the 1980s, Hentschel said. In 2009, he sold it to Coldwell Banker Devonshire, which later sold it to its current owner, she said.
Hentschel attributes his success to hard work, determination and an entrepreneurial spirit.
“He just had this special gift from God,” she said. “No matter who he was around, he made you feel special. It wasn’t just with family. It was anybody who met him.”
“Walter was very much a gentleman,” said Walton, adding that the two were like brothers. “He was smart and very shrewd, but Walter was a giving person.”
He never stopped trusting people, had a strong faith and always had a love for Jacksonville, Walton said.
In earlier years, Mr. Williams served on the Boy Scouts of America board and was a member of Westside Rotary, Westside Jaycees and president of the Northeast Florida Board of Realtors. Hentschel runs his title company while his son, Tripp Williams, runs his property management business.
Mr. Williams was also a pilot who enjoyed flying his family to Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas.
In addition to his son and daughter, Mr. Williams is survived by his wife of 23 years, Sherry Williams; his brother, Kent Williams; his sisters, Jean Powers and Gay Kennedy; two stepsons, John Hamm and Lee Petty; and seven grandchildren.
A celebration of life service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 10, at Westside Baptist Church, 7775 Herlong Road.