Billy Ray Williams
February 15, 2015
Date of Service: February 19, 2015
Interment Location: Christus Garden
Bill R. “Billy Ray” Williams, 68, Johnson City, Tenn., died Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015, at Johnson City Medical Center after a lengthy illness.
Mr. Williams was preceded in death by his parents, Ray W. Williams and Lois Fannon Williams, and by a brother, James, all of Elizabethton.
He was a graduate of Elizabethton High School and attended East Tennessee State University, studying computer science. While at ETSU, Mr. Williams was a member of the National Championship ROTC Band that, in 1966, performed in Lincoln Center’s Philharmonic Hall.
Mr. Williams began his working career in the 1960s at WBEJ-AM radio in his hometown of Elizabethton, where he worked as board announcer for “Breakfast at The White House” with “Curly” White and later as station news director. He acquired the moniker “Mophead” there, and the nickname stuck when he moved to WJCW-AM in Gray, where he worked a daytime shift of news and music and hosted a night show.
In the mid-1970s, Mr. Williams moved to television, working as cameraman, reporter and weekend anchor at WJHL-TV in Johnson City.
Encouraged by friends and professors, in the later 1970s, Mr. Williams took a position at ETSU as a mainframe computer operator. His supervisor recognized Mr. Williams’ attention to detail, his meticulous work ethic and his affinity for complex systems, and moved him from operations into systems programming in 1979. There, he worked nights, weekends and long days locked away, developing highly detailed code, first for the mainframe and then for a variety of Novell and UNIX servers related to networking and to bringing the Internet to ETSU.
With intelligence, adaptability and an affinity for computer technology and practical problem solving, Mr. Williams made the transitions from IBM mainframes to virtual machines and MVS to Linux. From 2001 to 2011, he worked for the university libraries, administering the systems that provided the Northeast Tennessee Libraries online catalog; online publishing of ETSU theses and dissertations; and access to electronic resources. He was instrumental in moving university library services into the digital age.
Mr. Williams retired in June 2011, after 32 years of service as a systems analyst at ETSU.
He enjoyed numerous pursuits outside the computer center or office, including the pursuit of good food and drink, and if he could not have them, he loved to talk about them or watch Food Network. Mr. Williams enjoyed puzzles of all sorts, was a Sudoku addict and loved Rube Goldberg contraptions.
He was also a member of Oak Street Baptist Church, Elizabethton, and of Mensa, the International High IQ Society.
One of Mr. Williams’ numerous avocations was acting in and directing local community and regional theater, at Johnson City Community Theater, Jonesborough Repertory Theater, Elizabethton High School and The Olde West dinner theater. He is remembered for so many productions, including “Lion in Winter,” “Carnival,” “Guys & Dolls,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “Wait Until Dark” and “Good Evening” — and many priceless portrayals, including General Bull Moose in “Lil Abner” and King Sextimus in “Once Upon a Mattress.”
More than anything, though, Mr. Williams will be remembered as a stalwart friend, always ready with witticisms and wisdom, such as “I’m sure it will be one way or the other.” He always will be “resplendent in his magnificence.”
Survivors include: one sister, Kathryn Williams, Virginia; an aunt; several cousins; and many friends.
A visitation will be held 6-7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 18, at Memorial Funeral Chapel in Elizabethton.
Memorial Funeral Chapel, Elizabethton, is charge of arrangements.