Resident Spotlight: Jack Williams

A Gentle Man

It is not unusual to meet a resident of Kirby Pines who has many talents as well as having lived a fulfilling life. Yet, who among the residents is so exceptionally talented in art to have gained recognition from the White House as well as other honors? Who has had repeated art displays on the Art Wall at Kirby? This is a story of such an individual, Jack Williams. Jack, at 92, is also one of the few remaining WWII Veterans to whom we owe so much. He is also quite a joke master.

Jack was born in Muskogee, OK in 1923, the middle child of 3 boys. His father was a Jewel Tea Salesman and a store owner; his mother was a teacher. They moved to Memphis when Jack was about 3 years old when his father became employed with the Post Office. The family rented 7 different homes until finally owning their first home in 1937. Jack says of his childhood, “We lived during The Great Depression. We were poor but didn’t know it. We were like everybody else. My older brother and I had fights as boys do. I was told that when he was 5 years old and I was 3, he put me in his wagon and took me to a neighbor’s house and tried to sell me to them. The neighbors declined and escorted us back home”. Jack said that he and his brothers always had jobs and shared jobs such as a 17-mile paper route, cutting grass, or, operating a Coca-Cola stand in the summer. All three brothers became Boy Scouts. Jack’s favorite job was caddying for golfers at Galloway Golf Club, subsequently learning to play the game. Jack believes that golf opened doors for him as he was selected to play with dignitaries and guests who visited his employer. Jack says, “I enjoyed the game of golf and met many people who helped me in my career.”

In 1940, during the summer prior to graduation from Messick High School, Jack was accepted into a program offered by the Defense Department to prepare workers for the war. Jack chose the class in drafting which resulted in a move to Nashville for classes in advanced drafting conducted at Vanderbilt University. Following completion of that course, Jack took a defense job with Fisher Aircraft. However, in October of 1942, Jack volunteered for the Army Air Corps and after basic training was assigned to the Meteorology Program at Vanderbilt University.

In 1944, Jack was re-classified and sent to Yale University to study Communications. He was eventually commissioned to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant and when the war ended in 1946, Jack had served on 17 different bases. 

Following the war, Jack enrolled and graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1948 with a major in Electrical Engineering. Visiting back in Memphis, Jack met his future wife, Margaret Jordan at St. Luke’s Methodist Church. They were married while Jack was still enrolled at Vanderbilt. Three children, two daughters, Linda and Carol and a son, John Paul, who died of leukemia at 3 years of age, were born to their union. There are presently two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren in the family for Jack to cherish. 

A Young Jack In Uniform
A Young Jack In Uniform

Following graduation from Vanderbilt, Jack was hired by General Electric and was employed by them for 36 years. His first jobs were menial labor, however, he had been promoted to General Manager of 8 District Managers at the time of his retirement. 

Jack’s love of art began at the early age of 17. However, putting all other efforts first, he did not resume his painting until he was in his 50’s. He presently has over 70 paintings. About his artwork, Jack says, “landscapes are my favorite but I also like florals and abstracts”. Learning to paint in several mediums, Jack became famous for his unique style which he refers to as “fractured option” painting. This involves interfacing one painting on top of another. Moving to Germantown in 1989, Jack became a member of the Memphis and Germantown Art League. In 1997, Jack won “Best of Show” for one of his “fractured” paintings in a contest sponsored by the Art League. Among his honors was a reception, a phone call from President Clinton and an article in the Commercial Appeal. The painting was also used on the MGAL’s invitations to their Juried Exhibition in 1998. An article about Jack’s “fractured option” style also appeared in a 1998 issue of The Artist’s Magazine. Another of Jack’s paintings was selected to appear on the front of the Germantown Calendar in 2008. Refusing to accept genius as an acceptable description of his artwork, Jack humbly adds, “I started painting as an adult and advise others to join a group and take classes. Everyone has some talent just waiting to be discovered”. To visit the Arts and Crafts room at Kirby Pines is a testimony to the number of Kirby artists and the opportunities available to the residents to develop their talent. 

Jack loves living at Kirby Pines, moving here in September, 2019 from Germantown after spending three months in Kirby Rehabilitation. Sadly, his wife, Margaret died earlier in 2019. He says “there are many friends and ‘old golf buddies’ here and everyone is so friendly”. To preserve history, Jack has written journals about his ancestry, childhood, employment and war experiences. What a rich treasure for his family!

Get to know Jack. You will be honored to know such a gentleman, a war hero, an exceptional artist, and humorist who is ready to tell you a story.

Written by Joan Dodson, Resident, Kirby Pines