A Homer mayor and former Homer News publisher has died. Gary Lee Williams, 77, died Oct. 29, 2021, in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., from complications from multiple myeloma, a cancer that forms in white blood cells.
His family announced his death in an obituary published in the Peninsula Clarion on March 11.
At a turbulent time in Homer’s history, when the old guard clashed with a new crowd of environmentalists, Vietnam War veterans and hippies, the city elected Williams over the mayor outgoing Hazel Heath and James “Hobo Jim” Varsos. Williams served one term as mayor of Homer from 1976 to 1978. Current Homer mayor Ken Castner, who worked for Williams at the Homer News, referred to him as the “bridge mayor”.
“He was from the old family, from the well-known old family, but also progressive,” Castner said. “…He was mayor at a time when we needed to have someone to bridge the gap. The city in the early 1970s was teaming up with new people.
Born in 1944 in Glendale, California to Edna and Bob Williams, Williams moved with his family to Colorado in the late 1940s and then to Anchor Point in 1953. The oldest child and only boy, he had four sisters younger.
“That says a lot about him,” his sister Carol Schmidt said.
The Williams family settled on a farm about 2.5 miles up the North Fork road from the Anchor Point end. Bob Williams ran a sawmill and later started Modern Builders Supply in Anchor Point before moving the business to Homer. His brother has worked hard since he was about 9 years old, Schmidt said.
“He was very calm and kind of stuck to himself,” she said. “…He didn’t have a lot of playing time. He either worked at the store or on the farm. When he wasn’t working, he fished on the North Fork River.
After graduating from Ninilchik High School, where he played on the basketball team, Williams went to college, first to Pepperdine University and later to University of Washington State University. ‘Oregon, at Corvallis. He also earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Alaska in Anchorage and attended videography school in California. In addition to owning and working as editor and publisher of Homer News, Williams was a city manager, public television director, wildlife documentary and videographer, and university administrator. His last job before retiring was with the Kenai Peninsula Borough Coastal Management Program.
After college, Williams returned in 1973 to help run the family business after his father fell ill. In a 2013 essay he wrote about his career in Homer journalism, Williams said that when he went to a Homer Chamber of Commerce meeting in 1974 to announce the sale of Modern Builders Supply, Homer News owner Linda Gjosund told him she thought he should buy the paper.
“A month later, after ignoring fatherly advice to stick to what I knew, I negotiated terms with Linda and secured a signature loan from the bank,” he wrote.
Castner said he first met Williams as a customer of Quiet Sports, the outdoor gear store Castner owned with his wife, Nancy Lord. Sierra Fischback, Williams’ daughter, said her father had always been physically active, playing golf, running and riding his bike.
“It’s crazy. He was healthy as a horse except he got cancer,” Fischback said.
Still, Williams was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2008. He was told he could live five to seven years, he lasted 13 years.
Castner went to work with Williams at the Homer News, and later in 1975 writer Tom Kizzia joined the paper. Kizzia said he vividly remembers being offered the job of editor “in light of the Inglima dairy case”, the former Homer grocery store that later became Proctor’s.
Castner, Lord, and Kizzia had all attended Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. Kizzia worked on the student newspaper there. Castner and Lord told Williams about Kizzia.
“‘We have this friend who really knows something about newspapers,'” Kizzia said they told Williams.
Williams wanted to continue writing editorials and selling ads, which Kizzia said was fine with him, as those were the two things he didn’t want to do. Kizzia wrote almost all of the stories and brought innovations like putting titles on each story.
Kizzia said Williams didn’t have a lot of journalism experience, but “he had the innate sense of a newspaper in a community without having actually worked in newspapers before.” … He understood the function and importance of a newspaper as a center of general interest in the community.
In 1976, Williams was elected mayor.
“It was a really important moment,” Kizzia said. “Before that it was Hazel Heath, the good old boys and girls of Homer who ran the show on the town council.”
With her education less than 48 years old, Williams brought a progressive perspective.
“He had a more modern view of the world,” Kizzia said. “He was plugged into the old, but also the new, which was a tourism economy to be developed in Homer.”
In one instance, Williams vetoed action by the city council to stop renting city land on Homer Spit for campgrounds and instead renting it for staging oil and gas exploration equipment. . The mid-1970s had been plagued by controversy over oil and gas leases in Kachemak Bay, an issue that became even more controversial when the jack-up rig George Ferris became stuck in Mud Bay.
“He (Williams) helped us take the next step, but the next step was always going to be protecting Kachemak Bay,” Castner said. “…The way they sold the leases in the bay was a crooked deal. There haven’t been many public notices to speak against them.
Williams also led the city in the Club Bar incident, a dustup that happened when artist Homer Brad Hughes painted a mural of a phoenix on the front of the Club Bar – now Alice’s Champagne Palace – after the bar was rebuilt following a fire. . Hughes also painted two nudes of a man and a woman on the mural. Many in Homer were offended, but the issue became more contentious when the Reverend Gordon Winrod, a white supremacist, sent an anti-Semitic flyer accusing the Club Bar owner and others in Homer “of being part of a Semitic cabal. “wrote Williams.
“He actually went to the North Fork and confronted the Winrods and said, ‘You can’t tear the town up like that,'” Castner said of Williams.
Williams allowed people to speak at a city council meeting that grew so large that she had to move from City Hall to Paul Banks Elementary School. Author Joe McGinnis wrote about the incident in a chapter of his Alaska book, “Going to Extremes.” The controversy was defused when a Homer man, Cliff Culkins, stood up and said, “I’d rather my kids go through the board at the club three or four times a day than be exposed to something like this letter once in their lifetime.
“Then it was as if the Holy Spirit was coming down; a sudden wind; the catharsis rush,” Williams told McGinnis.
Club Bar owner Billie Bedsworth agreed to repaint the bare parts of the board.
Schmidt said his brother is always striving to do something new, whether it’s in fitness or new careers.
“That was his modus operandi,” she said. “…He was always looking for something different.
His daughter called Williams “very worthy.”
“Very conscientious of what’s going on in the world, always mindful of current affairs,” Fischback said. “Loved politics – very interested in politics. He read the paper every day until the day he died.
She also said Williams had been an amazing grandfather to his three daughters. “He adored them and loved spending time with them,” Fischback said.
Her father was “hardworking and 100% committed to his work and his ideals,” she said. “He always worked his best to make these things happen, completely dedicated to the cause he was working on. For the better of the city of Homer and the whole region, I feel like he made a difference there.
Williams is survived by her daughter, Sierra Fischback; his son Garret Williams; granddaughters, Kajsa, Odette and Adara; grandson, Malachi; his sisters Bonnie Schram, Carol Schmidt, Joyce Haley and Judy McDaniel, as well as several nieces and nephews.
A memorial gathering is planned for this summer, with Williams’ ashes to be strewn on the Homer Spit.
Contact Michael Armstrong at [email protected]