W. Percy Williams

 

 

Induction Year: 1985

Lived: 1892-1970

 

Papers:

Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News & Times Gazette; Florence (Ala.) Times News

Paris (Tenn.) Post-Intelligencer; Ledger & Times, Murray, Ky.; Fulton (Ky.) Daily Leader

 

W. Percy Williams started in newspapering at age 12 by carrying the Birmingham (Ala.) News and went on eventually to establish a west Tennessee newspaper dynasty that spanned four generations of the Williams family. A consummate business executive, he bravely converted a weekly, the Paris Post-lntelligencer, into a daily at the height of the Great Depression and later became the owner and chief executive of two other area dailies.

 

But it was his firm conviction that "the pen is mightier than the sword" that brought him respect and admiration, even from those he fiercely opposed in his often eloquently reasoned editorials. His impact as an editorial writer can still be seen in Paris and Henry County. As a responsible, civic-minded editor, he was aware of the power of the press to move and shape the future of his community, and he used his editorial columns to fight injustice as well as to promote the common good.

 

In the 1930s, when the new and highly suspect federal agency, the Tennessee Valley Authority, held out the promise of new life to one of the least progressive regions of the nation, Williams took on a personal crusade to bring TVA's low-cost public power to Paris and Henry County. In doing so, he had to battle the wealthy and entrenched public utilities systems.

 

His strong sense of community commitment led to other editorial campaigns, including one that forced the school board to discontinue a tuition charged to the town's only high school, easing the burden of hundreds of poor families who found it almost impossible to support their children through 12 years of elementary and secondary education.

 

His carefully reasoned editorials were a driving force in a campaign that resulted in clean local elections after years of domination by a handful of powerful political leaders.

 

Williams was born in Louisville, Miss., in 1892 and by the time he was 12 his family was living in Birmingham. His experience as a carrier convinced him that he wanted a career in newspapering. At 18 he was the youngest district route manager on the Birmingham News staff. He resigned in 1914 to become circulation manager of the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News. He bought an interest in that paper and two years later became editor and publisher.

 

In 1916, he purchased the Tuscaloosa Times-Gazette and until 1918 published the combined papers, afternoons and Sundays, under the name Tuscaloosa News & Times Gazette.

 

He was rejected for military service in World War I but worked as an Army civilian employee. After the armistice, he resumed his newspaper career at Florence, Alabama, as advertising manager of the Florence Daily News. Later he purchased interest in the weekly Florence Times which he converted to a daily and Sunday paper. He operated the combined paper as the Florence Times-News until 1927, when he purchased the Paris Post-lntelligencer, a weekly that traced its roots to the Weekly Intelligencer founded March 30, 1896.

 

He converted the Post-lntelligencer to a daily in 1930 with one battered Linotype machine and an ancient hand-fed cylinder press that slowly ground out the daily press run of approximately a thousand copies. A man of keen business insight, he went on to purchase the Ledger & Times, a weekly in Murray, Kentucky, which he converted into a daily. Later he added the Fulton (Ky.) Daily Leader to his holdings. He remained president of all three newspaper corporations until his retirement in 1967.

He died May 2, 1970.

 

In addition to his lasting contributions to the general improvement of the quality of life in Paris and surrounding communities, Williams' greatest legacy perhaps is the fact that five of his seven children followed in his footsteps into various aspects of journalism, and two grandsons and two great-grandchildren are also in the news business. His three newspapers are still in family hands.