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Jack Williams: a Massachusetts television icon

Jack Williams on assignment for Wednesday’s Child

By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor

For nearly four decades, before the advent of the internet and its various news sources, many New Englanders trusted one station, WBZ-TV in Boston, for its news. And in particular, they trusted the station’s longtime anchor, Jack Williams.

Williams stepped down from the anchor desk in 2014 and officially retired in 2015. He now lives in Nevada with his wife of 43 years, Marci.

Recently, the Fifty Plus Advocate caught up with him to reminisce about his long and successful career, his inspirational charity, Wednesday’s Child, and his life now.

 A storied career 

After several stints in Oregon, Washington and Nevada, Williams joined WBZ-TV in 1975, just in time to cover one of the area’s most volatile stories, court-ordered busing.

Throughout his career at the station he covered every significant story, including the Boston Marathon bombings, for which he received a 2014 Columbia DuPont Award and a 2013 Peabody Award as part of WBZ-TV’s team coverage.

But it was in 1980 when Williams was partnered with co-anchor Liz Walker that “magic” really happened. Along with sportscaster Bob Lobel, meteorologist Bruce Schwoegler, and arts reporter Joyce Kulhawik, the five became a “dream team” of sorts, so well-known and popular that they were often just referred to by their first names.

“It was a family atmosphere, there was a definite synergy and chemistry,” Williams said.

“It was a special time – at one point we were the most popular reporting team in the country,” he said.

Among the thousands of stories, one has special poignancy.

“In 1984, my dream assignment was visiting Normandy for the 40th anniversary of D-Day landings in WWII,” he recalled in a letter to viewers he posted online when he announced his retirement. “I would return 10 years later, this time surrounded by New England veterans who fought in the lengthy battle to get a foothold in Fortress Europe.

“These were real heroes, just plumb tough,” he noted.

He was touched, he said, when the veterans made him an honoree member of the D Company 2nd Rangers.

During Williams’ career, he has won numerous awards, including four Emmy awards, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association, and the prestigious 2012 Yankee Quill Award, which is considered to be the highest individual honor awarded by fellow journalists in the region and is presented annually by the Academy of New England Journalists.

A legacy of helping others

Although Williams is an award-winning television reporter, to many he is equally known as the founder of Wednesday’s Child, an organization that strives to help children with special needs get adopted.

Starting in 1981, each Wednesday Williams featured a child in a television spot on WBZ, allowing the child to share his or her story with viewers. Since its inception, over 800 children were featured with nearly 75 percent of them ultimately finding adoptive families. Williams also raised more than $10 million dollars for special needs adoption.

In April 2000, he created the Jack Williams Endowment for Wednesday’s Child, a 501(c) (3) charity, to ensure continued financial support for special needs adoption. Each year he and Marci give $430,000 in grants to agencies and group homes helping special needs children find adoptive homes.

Marci was an integral part of the organization, he said, often doing much of the behind scenes work for the various fundraisers they held.

“I am not being falsely modest but I am no angel. My wife is a much better person than I am,” he said.

The idea for Wednesday’s Child came to him, he said, when he became aware of a well-known family who had a “hush-hush part of their lives” – a child with Down syndrome.

“Kids with Down syndrome are exceedingly loving,” he said. “Things are so much better for them now but there’s still a ways to go. It made me realize how lucky I was and how unfair it is for these kids.”

In December 1997 Williams was honored at the White House by President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton, with the first Adoption 2002 Excellence Award.

Finding a way to help others has benefitted his life in so many ways, he said.

To those who are over 50 and might find themselves at loose ends, he encourages them to “find something that interests you.”

“You can’t do 100 things, so find that one thing that really interests you such as planting flowers or helping the elderly. Keep looking – be involved.

“You only have one life – this is it – it’s not a dress rehearsal,” he added. “Most people live in a cocoon. Challenge yourself to keep growing. Get moving and help others.”

Simple pleasures of retirement

Although he is now out of the spotlight, he continues to “read a lot of newspapers,” he said, even the ones he doesn’t agree with, in order to attempt to get both sides of an issue.

“I really worry that people, especially young people, rely on sources other than newspaper or newscasts to get news and base their decisions on headlines they see online,” he said. “It’s so important to get different points of view.”

He also enjoys reading books, listening to classical music and playing golf.

“To quote Oscar Wilde, ‘I adore simple pleasures. They are the last refuge of the complex,’” he said.

Jack Williams with his wife, Marci

 

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