James Dudley “Jim” Williams passed away on February 9th at his daughter’s home in Porter, OK while surrounded by his family. Jim was born in Atlanta, Georgia on August 24, 1933.
He graduated from Oak Park High School in IL, of which he was very proud. He loved the “Cubbies” and loved his youth in Chicago, where his father, Dudley A “Bill” Williams and mother, Florence Lee (Maples) Williams created a wonderful family, just the three of them. His Dad worked for the Heinz Corporation which may be part of the reason Jim was known for his love of condiments, often shocking others with the smothering of his food in them, including pickles.
The family moved to Tulsa in the 1950’s. Not long after, his dad, Bill, decided to open a bowling center, a very popular recreation at that time. Now part of Tulsa’s history, Yale Bowl, then located at 47th and Yale, eventually becoming a 60 lane facility.
Jim had many achievements in his lifetime. After graduating high school in 1951, he went on to the University of Missouri, graduating with a Bachelor’s in Journalism in 1955. While at the University of Missouri, he joined the Navy through ROTC, beginning 1955 and eventually cruising aboard the USS Lexington and later was honorably discharged as LTJG in 1957.
Upon moving to Tulsa to meet up with his parents, he used his journalism degree working some in advertising, including Sunray DX. Jim then went to law school, graduating at the University of Tulsa’s first night class, earning his J.D. in law in 1967. While practicing as a new attorney, he met the absolute love of his life, J. “Janet” (Jackson) Williams. He and Janet were going on their 52nd year of a beautiful marriage. Janet brought 2 children to the marriage, Rebecca and Pamela, and then they had baby girl, Diana. Jim and Janet complemented one another and were a very tight knit couple. They created a strong family unit, the five of them. There were always dogs and cats that were family members through the years as well. Jim loved being a family man and loved his three daughters and the family life. He felt it was his most successful achievement.
Although Jim was an attorney for a couple of years when first married, his dad asked him to come help manage Yale Bowl, as it had become very successful during this time. What was intended to be a temporary position became full-time and Jim ended up staying and managing Yale Bowl with his dad until it closed in the 1980’s. He continued to put his legal education to good use through the years, whether assisting in the family oil and gas interests, which they still manage today, or for friends and referrals of those in need. Jim loved to advocate for a cause. He seemed to always take on cases to fight for the underdog. Jim had a special place in his heart for those he felt needed a break. Perhaps this compassion was because of his own struggles.
With all the achievements and degrees, including some topics with honors, Jim was hard on himself, trying to find his “perfect” career. What we then thought of as personality eccentricities, we now know his little personality quirks has a name. Jim was on the Autism Spectrum with Asperger’s. During the majority of his life, there was no understanding of this condition. The syndrome was only defined in the 1940’s and certainly the general public had no awareness. It must have been confusing for him as he thought everyone else’s brain was the same as his, yet clearly some of the things that seemed important to him were not to others. Jim’s Asperger’s included sensory disorder which explained why he didn’t like certain foods, smells, or textures. Those on the spectrum are also known to struggle with social situations and misunderstandings. A social faux pas like repeating an inappropriate joke that was never understood in the first place can cause wrong assumptions about the person’s character. The family shares this information because in Jim’s legacy he would want to help bring awareness.
Some of these accidental embarrassing moments are cherished humorous memories now. Since Jim was unable to pick up on social cues, his family would often try to prevent things from going badly at important dinners or events by giving him advice in advance. It was many years before the family received the information and education to understand him. His family just understood it as an endearing, yet frustrating quality. Sometimes, Janet or one of the girls would kick him lightly under the table or something to try to get him off a topic or from consuming the conversation. Nothing ever worked and he would loudly say something like “Why are you kicking me under the table?”, or to everyone, “Somebody keeps kicking me”. Then sometimes before an important meeting, he would get coached again, and yet he would arrive at the table and come out and say, “Janet said I need to be nice to you. Is there anything I can do for you?” He did try. He also had a hobby of catching grammatical errors and assumed everyone would find it fun to know as well, so he often corrected the grammar of a stranger or their business sign. Although these times could be somewhat humorous, with perspective his loved ones can see how strong of a person he was, having to navigate life without understanding.
Jim had a huge heart and intense love for all animals. He would always stop the car and pick up every stray or lost animal he saw and return it to its home, or if it didn’t have one, find a new home, (or sometimes his own home).
Jim was also fiercely loyal and protective of his friends. He believed everybody deserved another chance if their heart was in the right place. His family is aware of the sacrifices he has made for others. In one situation, he even allowed himself to take the blame for the person’s bad decision in order to hold that person’s family together. He didn’t care what others thought of him if he was saving a family. He wanted everyone to have happiness.
Jim was a paradox. Because of the way his brain worked, people sometimes made incorrect assumptions about him. He was afraid of flies and bugs, but he wasn’t afraid of everything. He would pet a snake and probably any wildlife. He loved horseback riding and wanted to live in the country with horses and lots of dogs and cats, yet he also loved the city life. He might scream out at something cold simply touching him, yet he was incredibly tough through surgeries, injuries, and illnesses taking on the pain stoically. He had a sophisticated education, a classic literature collection since youth, yet he still enjoyed watching cartoons, particularly Scooby-Doo. He could formally write or recite classic literature such as Shakespeare, yet he also loved to entertain his family with old jingles, silly quotations, poems and songs. He was a great imitator of Dean Martin, often singing “Everybody loves Somebody”, or his favorite Karaoke song, “16 tons”. He enjoyed acting and spoke of his high school drama days. He had a great ability to imitate different voices. He could debate politics and Constitutional law, yet he also was an admirer of simple old westerns, and old-time radio detective shows. He loved the simplicity of the justice in those stories which always prevailed at the end. He also loved old guns and had great knowledge of firearms. His politics couldn’t even fit in one party-he supported causes on both sides. He was a compassionate advocate at heart, even for a stranger if he overheard a need. He didn’t seem to like change, often eating the same foods or wearing the same style clothes for comfort, yet he often embraced major change without fear, such as career moves, and he did it on his own. He could be loud, intense, adventurous, and boisterous, yet he was also tenderhearted and a playful big kid and gentle soul. He would sometimes unknowingly come across as bossy or inappropriate with his tone, yet he also had a trademark uproarious laugh. He loved roller coasters (Zingo in the old days), bowling, swimming, snorkeling, parasailing, eager to embrace whatever life had to offer. Everything he did was with passion and purpose, even simple things like grilling his perfect burgers.
This is his legacy. For us not to judge one another so quickly or make incorrect assumptions, yet love one another. It is an extension of Jim’s Christian faith and the basis of all his decisions. The family hopes that in sharing some Asperger/Autism awareness we all will see one another’s heart and character a little better.
Jim was preceded in death by his daughter Rebecca J. Williams Chambers in 2007.
Jim is survived by his loving wife, J. Janet Williams, his daughters Pamela S. Williams of Porter, Diana L. Williams Marshall and husband Rod, of Tulsa. He also is survived by 2 wonderful grandsons, James Cody Fissel and Connor James Marshall, 2 great-grandchildren, and son-in-law, Andrew Chambers, all from Tulsa. Being an only child, he craved and loved being a part of his extended family. He was blessed with his cousin Dorothy “Pink” Bradshaw of Norman, OK and her family, and all of the relatives from Janet’s side of the family from Arkansas, whom he thought of as his own. He is also survived by cousins, Kay Williams and David Williams of Dallas, TX.
Donations in his honor can be made to autismoklahoma.org or tulsaspca.org or your favorite animal welfare charity.
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