Rudy Williams honored at John Gray Center
Officials, family and friends gathered Tuesday, Aug. 26 to formally dedicate the Rudy Williams Building at the John Gray Center complex to honor Williams for his contributions to higher education at Lamar University.
“It is most fitting that the building be named in his honor,” said Ken Evans, president of the university. “Generations of Lamar University students and faculty will benefit from his generosity. Now his name will forever be alongside those of several great leaders in Lamar’s history – John Gray, Herman Iles, Elvis Mason and Richard Price.”
Williams established The Jean and Rudy Williams Academic Enhancement Fund at Lamar University to provide scholarships and academic enhancement funds for faculty and students. Three quarters of the money generated by the gift will be distributed as scholarships to help the university recruit and retain students of the highest quality and the remainder will be used at the discretion of the president for university academic enhancement.
The gift was made in memory of his late wife, Jean, who died in 2005. Rudy and Jean were the parents of Susan William Simmons, wife of LU President Emeritus James Simmons. Rudy married Helen Hatchell Freeman in 2006.
“Education is very important to my Dad,” Susan Simmons said. “Although he didn’t have a formal education, he saw that it was very important for his children to go to college.” Williams followed through on that conviction through the years by providing educational opportunity for many other young people, Simmons said.
The Rudy Williams Building was formerly Building B. The other major building of the John Gray Center complex was named for Herman Iles in September 2013. “Dad and Herman Iles were very good friends,” Simmons said. “In fact, Dad took Herman hunting shortly before he died.” Inside the Rudy Williams Building is a tribute to another of Williams’ friends, the Elvis Mason Conference Room.
“This is a legacy for my children and grandchildren and it means a tremendous amount to me personally,” Simmons said, “because Lamar University is where I earned my degree and Lamar has been so much a part of our lives through the years.”
“I hope that people will recognize how much Rudy did for others throughout his life,” Simmons said. “He’s a humble man whose legacy will now be a part of Lamar in perpetuity.”
Born at home on Aug. 27, 1922 in Milam, to Vessie and Lily Williams, Rudy was the youngest of four children. He recalls that his family, living on the farm, did not have electricity, running water or indoor plumbing until the early 1940s. The Deep East Texas Electric Cooperative first brought electricity to Sabine County in 1938.
Williams attended Geneva Grammar School in Geneva, Tx., and graduated from Hemphill High School in 1940. He lettered in basketball and made spending money raising and selling tomatoes. At 15, he worked at a tomato shed in Hemphill.
After graduating high school, his sister, Carra Cates convinced their father that Rudy should not stay on the farm, and took $35 that their father had given him for a car and rented a room in Beaumont where he attended Chenier’s Business School. While attending classes, Williams worked every day at the San Jacinto Drug Store as a short order cook, sold shoes at Rosenthal’s Department Store, and worked at Tyrell Hardware on the weekends doing odd jobs.
In 1941, his first “real” job was with Atlantic-Gulf and Pacific Dredging Co. First, he worked as a payroll clerk for this company that dredged up and down the Intercoastal Canal from Mobile Bay to Corpus Christi. He learned as many of the skills aboard this barge as he could, and by 1942, the company classified him as a civil engineer. In 1944, he was employed as an assistant purchasing agent for the Lummus Company in Port Neches, Texas. Then he went to work for the Defense Plant Corp. (a part of the U.S. Government). This corporation coordinated materials to build chemical plants and refineries in the Port Neches, Port Arthur, and Beaumont areas. He worked for this company until 1945. In December 1944, he married Jean Hilliard, and they had three children: Susan, Reed and Richard.
In 1945, Roy Manes and Williams started Gulf Supply Co. From 1944-1970, he and his family lived in Beaumont, where he was a charter and active member of Trinity United Methodist Church. In 1950, he served on the building committee for the church, and he helped to organize the fundraising committee for the television broadcasting system at Trinity United Methodist Church in Beaumont.
In 1951, Williams became executive vice president of Gulf Supply. In 1967, he became president and CEO of the company, which became a nationally known industrial distributor of piping and related materials. Later that year, Williams, John Duncan, and others bought Roy Maness’s interest in Gulf Supply, and Gulf Supply became Gulf Consolidated Services. Williams became president and CEO of that company, also. In 1970, Williams and his partners moved the company to Houston. His company bought/merged with several companies, and eventually, as CEO of Gulf Consolidated Services he operated 21 divisions throughout the world and employed 1,600 people. Also, in 1970, Rudy and Jean built a lake house in Livingston, Texas, which became their weekend place.
In 1977, Williams and his partners sold Gulf Consolidated Serves to the Mead Corp. From 1977-1985, he served as consultant for the Mead Corp. In 1985, he started another company, Oil Company Specialties, and then sold this company to John Mecom in 1988. That year, Williams retired and he and Jean bought a house in Beaumont where they lived part time and part time at the lake. While living in Livingston, he was very active in community affairs. He helped organize the fundraising drive to build a new facility for Livingston’s First United Methodist Church. He also served on the board and the building committee for the county hospital. In 1999, Jean and Rudy returned to Beaumont to live. Jean died in 2005, and Rudy married Helen Hatchell Freeman the following year.
An avid sportsman and “farmer,” Williams enjoyed fishing, hunting, golfing, working in his yard, managing his investments, and talking about his travels. He especially enjoyed his visits to the Middle East: Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran. At 91, Williams still enjoys watching basketball and golf, and telling “tall tales.” His favorite saying is “Life is good.”