Jerry Williams: In the

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 3, 2002

right place at the right time


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Jerry Williams doesn’t consider himself lucky that he was in the right place at the right time in the business world. He considers himself – fortunate – very fortunate.

He started in electronics as a greenhorn high school student and retired after 22

successful years as the owner of Radio Shack in Troy.

Williams, laughing, said he didn’t know what could be made of the fact that he bought the business on April Fool’s Day 1980 and sold it on April Fool’s Day 2002.

But, had life not played a cruel joke on Williams, his retirement might have been from the pubic school system instead of private business.

Williams had been around electronics all his life, beginning when he was in high school working at a radio station and continuing through college and an internship at a television station.

However, Williams wanted to be a teacher and that’s how he started his career. The summer after his first year in the classroom, Williams was injured in an industrial accident and confined to a wheelchair for four years.

Because he had a background in electronics and because working with his hands was easy from the wheelchair, he opened a radio service in a small trailer next to Wilson’s Barbecue House on Highway 231.

"Most of the work I did was on citizen band radios and two-way radios," Williams said. "Back in the 1970s, CBs were the craze. Here in Troy there was a huge CB club. That’s what a lot of people did for entertainment at night – talk on CBs."

Williams added, laughing, that those CB clubs might have been the early versions of computer chat rooms.

He also installed tons of car radios and he had enough work to keep him busier than busy.

In time, the pin ball craze hit the South and Wilson’s Radio became a specialized service system that

serviced the popular machines in stores all around the area and beyond.

"The pin ball machines used digital electronics and that was just a natural flow from the CBs and radios," Williams said. "I was just in the right place to benefit from the pin ball craze and to learn from it."

The world of electronics was changing at a rapid pace and Williams did what was necessary to keep up with the fast-paced changes.

When opportunity knocked, he was ready.

"Rhett Butler owned Radio Shack and, when he got ready to sell, he offered the opportunity to me," Williams said. "I knew there was a future in electronics, but I had no idea about the changes that were coming and that they would come so fast."

With each change, Williams found that he was ready – from CBs to pinball machines, from digital electronics to remote telephones, from computers to remote cell phones – each one seemed to fold into the next.

Williams was ready when each change came because he was constantly reading technical magazines, taking classes and advantage of all opportunities to keep up with the changes in his "world."

"I really felt pressured to stay up with all the technical material," he said. "I would spend an hour or two a day reading – just to stay up and to find out what was coming."

For 22 years, Williams was on the front lines of technology and, fortunately, he had been at the right place at the right time to take advantage of the changes. His business continued to grow and he found great satisfaction in his work and from the friendships he developed with his customers and his employees.

But, there came a day when he knew he was at the right place in his career and the right time in his life to retire and let someone else have the same opportunity that Butler had given him.

Williams has always had a knack for knowing when the time was right.

He served on the Troy Public Library Board and, when he realized he had done as much as he could, he knew the time was right to let someone else serve. When he had been as "useful" as he thought he could on the city school board, he gave someone else the chance to serve.

"I just knew it was the right time for me to retire," he said. "I had accomplished the goals I had set for the business and it was time for me to give the opportunity to Bryan Freeman to carry the business forward. He had earned that right. It was a natural fold for him to take over."

And, last, but most importantly, Williams said, was the absence of his wife, Mary, from the business.

"Mary worked along with me for all those years and, when she retired two years ago, there was a huge hole left there and it took much of the joy out of going to work," he said. "We were meant to work together. We were a two-horse yoke. I missed her being there and I wanted time with her and time to enrich my life. It was time for me to do that."