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Remembering Bob Williams: Industry Leader, Mentor and Servant

by | Sep 29, 2021 | Floral Industry News | 0 comments

Robert “Bob” Williams II, past president and chairman of the Society of American Florists, retired vice president of Smithers-Oasis’ North American operations, mentor to many, and the most recent recipient of the Paul Ecke Jr. Award, passed away Monday after a battle with ALS. He was 75.

Williams, AAF, PFCI, is remembered for his strong business sense, leadership skills and selfless service to the industry — which included serving as a mentor to many.

“Anyone and everyone who knows Bob is aware that he is all about relationships and connecting with people,” Smithers-Oasis president and CEO Robin Kilbride wrote in support of Williams’ nomination for the Paul Ecke Jr. Award. “And after he does that personally, he will do his best to help others build relationships and connect.”

Williams was honored by the industry Thursday at SAF’s annual convention in Orlando, when it was announced that he was the recipient of the Paul Ecke Jr. Award, which recognizes exemplary devotion to the professionalism, the industry and the local community. Williams was unable to travel to the convention to accept his award. Instead, the awards committee took the award to him in August at a special event where he lived. A recording of that event was played during the award ceremony Thursday after which the audience honored Williams with a standing ovation.

Williams entered the floral industry in 1997 after leaving Sherwin Williams to become the director of sales and marketing at Smithers-Oasis. Over the next 19 years he rose through the ranks to become vice president of North American operations at the Kent, Ohio manufacturer.

During that time Williams was very involved with SAF. He served on committees, councils and the executive board where he was president and chairman.

“His commitment to helping SAF achieve its goals and objectives was extraordinary in every sense of the word,” says Drew Gruenberg, SAF’s former chief operating officer.

Williams was instrumental in advancing the association’s government relations objectives. He arrived on Capitol Hill for the organization’s Congressional Action Days energized and ready to discuss matters important to the floral industry. In Washington, he helped less-experienced attendees hone their pitches, guided event programming, introduced speakers, and advocated for SAF and the industry at dinners and receptions. He also kept in contact with members of Congress throughout the year to keep the industry’s interests at the top of legislators’ minds.

Williams also played a key role in developing SAF’s 1-Day Profit Blast program, an affordable traveling seminar designed to help SAF connect in-person with more retailers throughout the United States.

SAF CEO Kate Penn remembers Williams for his strategic planning and ability to see the bigger picture, which helped guide the organization.

“As president, Bob was always conscious of celebrating SAF’s big wins—what we were doing right? But at the same time, he made sure we were thinking two to three years ahead as well. What key floral industry audiences are we not reaching? How can SAF make the biggest impact on the success of its members?,” Penn says.

Peter Moran, SAF’s former CEO who worked closely with Williams during his tenure as president, echoed Penn’s sentiments.

“Bob was such a strategic thinker,” Moran says. “He could always step back and see the big picture and a path forward.”

Williams took that skill on the road, traveling the country with former SAF president Charles Kremp, AAF. The two brought together retailers and wholesalers for more than 30 roundtable discussions.

“It was clear that we shared an interest in strategic planning and its necessity for floral retailers to be successful,” Kremp says.

Chris Drummond, AAF, PFCI, chairman of SAF’s board of directors, recalled how Williams went out of his way to make him feel welcome when he began serving on the board.

“The greatest thing about Bob is that he made every person in the room feel like they are the most important person in the room,” Drummond says. “He was so humble, and in most cases he was the smartest person in the room. As a young board member being extremely nervous, having the smartest guy in the room take you under his wing and treat you like you are important makes such a big difference. The way he treated people was remarkable. Nothing was ever about Bob; it was about the good of the industry, SAF, other people.”

Drummond believes it was Williams’ faith that drove him in his desire to serve the industry.

“He saw this truly as his Christian mission,” Drummond said. “He was impacting the lives of not just the people at SAF and Smithers-Oasis, but people around the country by providing flowers and products at the most emotional points of life. He didn’t underestimate at all the impact of flowers on people’s lives.”

Kilbride, along with Red and Katie Kennicott of Kennicott Brothers Co., have established a memorial tribute to Williams with the American Floral Endowment. Read Williams’ full obituary and get details on the visitation and funeral service here.

Amanda Jedlinsky is managing editor of SAF Now.

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