George Albert Williams, Jr., 89, beloved husband of Sara (“Sally”) Williams, died at home surrounded by his family on November 6th, 2017.
George was born in Salt Lake City, Utah to George and Marguerite Williams. George is the great grandson of George Albert Smith, First Counselor to Brigham Young, who was in charge of founding new settlements for Mormons throughout Utah and Arizona (St. George, Utah is named after George Smith). Because of his great grandfather's role in founding Mormon settlements, George always said urban planning was in his genes. He was preceded in death by his sister, Margery Zwolinski, and nephew, Jan. Family and friends agree that his childhood name “Sonny” became his disposition in life. He lit up a room when he entered and his smile brought great joy.
His passion for skiing started on the slopes of Alta, Utah before chairlifts were invented. He took great joy in teaching all of his children to ski when they were four. They were comfortable because he could ski down the hill backward with a budding skier between his legs. He skied Sugar Bowl the last few years because they offered free tickets to skiers over 80.
After graduating from the University of Utah in 1949, George moved to Redding, California for management training at Montgomery Wards. Within a week in Redding, he applied for admission to Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and was accepted. He received his MBA in 1951 and put his new knowledge to work in the Army Finance Corps during the Korean War. He used the GI bill to attend Harvard Law School. (LLB – 1956).
While practicing law as an associate at Heller, Erhrman, White and McAuliffe in San Francisco, he married Sara Wilson (“Sally”) in 1958. His law practice included representing developers in negotiations with the City, and he soon realized that his interests were more aligned with the City's, and public's, interest and decided to return to Harvard to earn an LLM in Planning Law while he held a faculty position to run the schools distinguished Ames Competition.
He returned to San Francisco in 1963 and went on to become, as some colleagues described, a "planning giant." He was a consultant with Arthur D. Little and won an award from Architecture Forum for his work on the San Antonio River Project. When he was called to Washington to write the key legislation for President Johnson's Model Cities Program, he and Sally moved to Washington and loved the work, but not the climate. After the Model Cities Program won the approval of Congress, he spent 10 months in Baltimore implementing a Model Cities Program for Mayor Thomas L. J. D'Alessandro III.
They returned to San Francisco with two small children, Peter and Jennifer, and bought a wonderful Victorian fixer-upper in Ashbury Heights that was big enough to grow their family. In the following years, Maria and Erica joined the family. George was at his happiest when he was camping in National Parks or skiing with his family at Northstar where he served on the Homeowners Board. He also loved taking his children and later his grandchildren to Europe.
George became the Assistant Director of San Francisco’s Planning Department in 1973 and retired in 1991. An interesting oral history of his career at the department is available on CD and in print at the San Francisco Library. At the Planning Department, George was in charge of Comprehensive Planning and was the principle author of the San Francisco Downtown Plan. Privately Owned Public Open Spaces (POPOS) were a feature of the plan. George enjoyed conducting tours of the POPOS even in retirement. George was also a guest lecturer at the University of California Berkeley School of Environmental Design; a member of the International Group of Cities on Water; and a cofounder of Friends of the Urban Forest and the San Francisco Friends of the Library.
After retirement from the San Francisco Planning Department, he became a consultant for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) enjoying posts in Jamaica, Slovakia, and Kazakhstan. The Soviet Union was dissolved in 1989 and cities in central Europe and Central Asia that had been run from central agencies needed to learn how to run a city, raise their own taxes, plan, and even form condo associations for people were given their apartments and maintenance became their responsibilities. Watching the local governments grow and mature was very rewarding.
In 1999, George and Sally moved to Berkeley, California. His now official "retirement" entailed serving on the Zoning Adjustment Board, the Berkeley Design Review Committee, the Board of Directors of SPUR (and other volunteer work for SPUR), and the executive committee of the Housing Action Coalition. He also joined the bass section of the Berkeley Community Chorus that performed his favorite classical music, a poker group, and the Retired Foreign Service Officers Organization. He found the Australian Travel Group, Intrepid, that traveled in groups of 12 to accommodate home stays. He and Sally traveled with Intrepid throughout China, Southeast Asia and South America. Touring the western United States was done comfortably in a VW Camper Van that provided them a bedroom wherever they went! George is survived by his wife of 59 years, Sally Williams; children: Peter (Rebecca) Williams, Jennifer (Shawn) Peters, Maria (Mike Lough) Williams, Erica (Alan) Orcharton; grandchildren Peter, Jr., and Steven Williams; Ashley and Johnna Peters; and Georgia Orcharton. Marc and Claude Imbault are beloved family members as are Eric and Michael Lough, his step-grandchildren. He also leaves his Zwolinski niece and nephew, and Sally’s siblings: Roger, Janet, and Chuck (Belinda) Wilson.