Obituary for Timothy Martin Williams of Vass

Deadlines be damned: Recollections on a most remarkable life

By Jim Williams

I’m a journalist, and Tim Williams was my brother. 

Tim was not the most difficult editor I ever worked for, but he was certainly the one I most wanted to impress. In fact, I spent much of my life hoping my older sibling and mentor would be proud of my decision to follow in his journalistic footsteps. 

But before I continue, I know Tim (the editor) would be disappointed if I buried the lede in his obituary, so:  

Timothy Martin Williams, of Vass, N.C., died of post-surgery complications on May 3, 2023 at 3:36 a.m. at Quail Haven Rehabilitation Center in Pinehurst. He was 75. Tim is preceded in death by his parents, Tom and Jo Williams, his wife Ann, his sons Nathan and Joshua, and his brother Mike. He is survived by his brother Don, Don’s wife, Barb, his sister Teresa, his brother Ted, his brother Jim (that’s me!), his brother Matt and Matt’s wife Carla, Tim and Ann’s close friends, Mattea Williams and Jill Haram, and numerous nieces and nephews.

OK, that’s out of the way, let’s move on. Tim always knew I write long. 

In 1979, Tim gave me my first real job as sports editor for one of his newspapers in southwest Missouri, a position that came with the daunting responsibility of penning a weekly column. I remember I wanted it to have a clever name like “The Jim Bag,” (You know, Jim instead of Gym…hilarious, right?) When I gleefully informed him of its name, Tim gave me a pained smile and then disappeared into his office, most likely to take a pull from the bottle of Old Grand-Dad bourbon he hid in his desk drawer. 

Growing up in rural northeast Missouri as one of the youngest kids in a raucous Catholic family of seven, I was always fascinated by my older siblings’ various careers: e.g., an Air Force captain, a geologist, a banker, a collegiate athletic administrator, and a business general manager. But it was my brother Tim that made chasing firetrucks and deciphering the scanner ramblings of an overworked 911 dispatcher seem like the most exciting job in the world.  

Thing is, I didn’t necessarily want a job. I wanted to be Tim. Ten years my senior, he seemed bigger than life. He was handsome, outgoing and gregarious. He was also an all-state. multi-sport high school athlete in Missouri. 

After leaving high school, Tim attended Northeast Missouri State (now Truman University) for a year before transferring to the University of Missouri School of Journalism, one of the most respected journalism schools in the country. He graduated in May of 1971.

Along the way, he had married his high school sweetheart, Ann Bollow. He once told me that Ann was the most beautiful woman he’d ever met. They were married 51 years, and Tim adored her right up to the moment she passed away in October of 2020.

In 1971, Tim bought his first newspaper, The Lawrence County Record in Mt. Vernon, Mo. He was 23 years old at the time, making him the youngest newspaper publisher in the country. Over the next 15 years, he’d go on to buy several other newspapers, all of which won numerous state and national awards for editorial, photography, general excellence and community involvement. I worked with Tim nearly five years, but unfortunately, The Jim Bag was not among the award winners.

In early 1989 – after an extensive search – Tim was hired as executive director of the then-Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers’ Association in Harrisburg, Pa. There, he would impact members, guide staff, and lead the newspaper industry in countless and enduring ways. For 22 years, he helmed the association as executive director and then president and CEO. As one of only nine presidents to direct PNA in its nearly 100 years, Tim’s distinct and dedicated tenure was marked by progress, change and growth.  

The Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, as it is now known, is widely considered one of the best and most innovative press associations in the country, thanks to Tim’s vision and revitalizing efforts. Tim was admired and respected in all corners of the newspaper industry for his strategic thinking, entrepreneurial instincts, professional work ethic and unparalleled commitment. With his roots in weekly newspapers, Tim never lost sight of the value of local community news and the importance of a free press. His ability to look forward was matched only by his talent for remembering every name, face, and lineage of the many family-owned news companies across Pennsylvania. His role at PNA was more than a job. It was a passion, a mission, a part of himself. The threads of his life were sewn through his many close relationships with colleagues, his genuine concern and care for others and his welcoming smile and laugh.  In the Pennsylvania newspaper industry, Tim was considered a game changer, a mentor, an icon, a legend. 

Expanding the Association staff from nine people in 1989 to a peak of 65 in 2005, Tim was an outstanding leader who trusted, respected, and supported his employees. He appreciated the staff he created and was especially proud of the many women he hired into management positions. 

It could be said that Tim’s empathy and care for colleagues – both within the office and across the state – stemmed from the adversity he and Ann faced. In 1991, Tim had the kidney transplant he had been needing at Hershey Medical Center. While board officers stepped in to assist, Tim returned quickly to work, showing his unwavering spirit and drive. Two years later, Tim and Ann experienced the tragic loss of their sons Nathan and Joshua. With the newspaper community holding them close, they established lifelong friendships which they carried with them into retirement.

During his tenure, Tim started and oversaw the growth of Mid-Atlantic Newspaper Services (now MANSI Media), PNA’s for-profit national placement service. Under his management, MANSI grew into an industry-leading business that annually placed more than $200 million in print and digital advertising. PennSCAN, MANSI’s statewide classified ad network; Pennsylvania NewsLink, a statewide press release service; and the affordable 2×2 Network were all started under his direction as well.

The association’s non-profit arm, the PNA Foundation, grew from $60,000 in funds to a $3 million endowment. Successful fundraising efforts including live and silent auctions, golf outings and a Fellows program flourished under his watch. 

 Tim’s lasting and perhaps most impressive legacy was the construction of PNA’s headquarters on North Front Street in Harrisburg. The three-story, 24,068 square foot building was completed in November 1998 and formally dedicated in May 1999. With Tim’s vision, the 21st Century Fund raised more than $700,000 to furnish and equip the state-of-the-art facilities for training. From the shelves in the media law library to the dishes in the catering kitchen, Tim was involved in every detail of the building plans and development. Collected relics and exquisite artwork from his days in the antique business, adorned the walls. And, most visibly, the First Amendment was engraved in the building’s blocks, wrapping the association in those foundational words. 

During his years at PNA, Tim worked with the board to change the name of the association to the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, to be more representative and inclusive of the membership. He spearheaded the association’s 75th Anniversary celebrations as well as the production of The PNPA Story, an extensive historical review of PNA’s first 75 years.

In 2011, Tim was awarded one of PNA’s most prestigious honors, the Benjamin Franklin Award.  He was recognized for his commitment and invaluable contributions to the newspaper industry.

After announcing his retirement at the end of 2010, Tim continued to help for several years, providing consulting and other services to the three companies and their boards of directors. He served for six years as a Trustee of the PNA Foundation and continued to support its efforts through donations and gifts.

It was always his and Ann’s dream to own horse property in North Carolina. And shortly after retiring, they moved to Vass, N.C. where they built a beautiful custom home on 12 lush acres for themselves and Ann’s beloved Friesian horse, Roelof. They immediately fell in love with this tight-knit community, making some of the closest and dearest friends of their lives. They loved the impromptu happy hours, potlucks, Friday barn night gatherings, antiquing, horse shows and exhibitions, and volunteering time at various organizations and charities. In short, Vass was their forever home.  

There’s an old tradition in journalism to use -30- to denote the end of the article. I’m sorry, Tim,  I can’t write it. I don’t think your story should end here in a stark grey obituary. I know I’m not the only person who looked up to you, was inspired by you, who loved you. Your story lives on in the glorious colors of all the lives you touched. 

I hope there are plenty of newspapers in heaven, all with unlimited ad budgets…’cause I know there are pages to fill. I, for one, miss you already. 

Melinda Condon contributed to this obituary.

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