Grocers throughout Texas, the Southwest and nation are mourning the loss of longtime industry leader Joe Williams.
Williams was the former VP for regulatory and member services of the Texas Retailers Association. He later served as a consultant with the TRA’s Texas Food Council, as well as the Texas Retailers Education Foundation.
According to a statement from the TRA, Williams died July 25.
“Like many of you who knew and had the pleasure of working with Joe over the years, we are deeply saddened by his death. Joe retired from TRA in the summer of 2018 and had been enjoying his retirement from a long and well-respected career in the grocery and food industry in which he contributed so much.
“However, even in retirement, he maintained his passion for our association’s educational foundation, to which he dedicated much of his efforts before retiring, serving as the treasurer of TREF these past two years. Our collective thoughts and prayers are with the Williams family during this difficult time.”
Industry colleagues were quick to recall Williams’ storied career and numerous contributions. Tracy Davis, director of the Center for Retail Management at the University of Houston, had known Williams for decades.
“We go back 40 years,” Davis said. “Joe was one of only three real friends. He cared about people, he had integrity, he was a mentor, he was a motivator and he was always about the other guy.”
Connie Yates, who is retired from the office of public affairs and communications with Albertsons/Tom Thumb/Randalls, echoed those sentiments.
“Joe was one of the finest people that ever lived on this earth,” Yates said. “I adored him and could not have done my job without his great knowledge and wisdom.”
In August 2017, the National Grocers Association surprised Williams with the NGA Spirit of America Award during the Texas Retailers Forum in Fort Worth. The award is one of the association’s top honors and recognizes dedication and service to the independent supermarket industry. Williams was speechless at the presentation.
“I’m never usually without words. I couldn’t say a word, and I was humbled,” Williams told The Shelby Report afterward. “I couldn’t believe it. I was a little shocked.”
At the presentation, NGA’s Greg Ferrara, SVP of government relations and public affairs, held off until the end of his remarks to name Williams as the recipient, describing only “a very special individual to everyone in the room. This individual has dedicated his life’s work to the supermarket industry and its members.”
Ferrara praised Williams’ work on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and WIC.
“I think most of us know that he’s a national expert on SNAP issues and, in particular, WIC. Many of us fondly refer to him as ‘Mr. WIC,’ and that is something that we might say in jest, but it really is the truth that he is a national expert,” Ferrara said.
“Numerous times, his efforts have actually saved his members sales, but probably more importantly, they ensured that consumers who use those benefits were able to use those benefits in-store.”
Williams served as the president of the Gulf Coast Retailers Association from 1994 until it merged with the Texas Retailers Association in 2006. He officially retired as a full-time employee from TRA in December 2015.
He was then brought in as a consultant to handle grocery liaison functions and food industry regulatory issues, as well as management of TREF.
At the Forum, Ferrara added of Williams: “Probably most importantly, he’s a patriot and he’s a Texan. He’s a family man, and he’s a man of faith. He’s also been a mentor to many, including yours truly, and many of us are lucky to be able to call him a dear friend.”