Charles E. Williams first got acquainted with The American Red Cross in 1966 outside of a small German town while overseas during the Vietnam War.
Williams’ Army unit, the 34th Signal Corps, was isolated in a remote part of Germany, sleeping in tents in the snow. He said they were on high alert after Russia began threatening to invade Czechoslovakia.
After months overseas, a worker came to tell him his first daughter, La Metra came into the world. Decades later, that moment inspired Williams to volunteer with the organization.
Williams, 70, said he was never the type to sit idle, and when he retired in 2007 after 42 years with General Electric, Trane and American Standard, he was looking for something to occupy his time.
“I got involved with the Red Cross, and from there it just went viral — from being involved to training (others), to shelter manager to this to that — and right now I’m the board chairman of The American Red Cross.”
In his over six years working with local chapter of the Red Cross, he has served as shelter manager at his church St. Louis Baptist Church in Tyler during two hurricanes. He was there for victims displaced by wildfires, train derailments and inclement weather, with a smile on his face, love in his heart and encouraging words for the people caught in a potentially bad situation.
“When a person is away from their home and they depend on others to help them, you have to be patient, you have to have the concerns they have …” Williams said. (“Looking back), ‘I say thank you Jesus for giving me the opportunity to reach out and make them happy or make their day.’”
But his heart has a tender spot for the elderly.
“I took special care of those to ensure that their needs were met…” he said. “I felt good about it that what I’ve done, the calmness I had to reassure them that everything was going to be alright and help them through a need or communications with family back home to let someone know that they were fine here.”
Williams’ desire to help others came from a strong family upbringing in Palestine. His family was large, with 10 children, but each child was given a set of expectations, with each reared to help others. Ironically, his father also chose the Red Cross as his outlet to reach out.
“Part of our family heritage is that we give back and try to help others,” he said. “My dad also worked with the red cross in Anderson County, which didn’t have any bearing on me. I didn’t realize that until after I got involved with the Red Cross.”
His desire to help others was there long before Williams put on his red and white vest.
“My Bible says you are blessed if you bless others,” he said.
Williams was assigned to the 34th Signal Corps in Europe. His unit was stationed in Germany and was tasked with laying communication infrastructure incase war broke out in Europe.
“I really enjoyed my time in service and it has enhanced my life to where I am today,” he said. “I don’t know if I could have accomplished the things that I’ve accomplished now if I hadn’t been in the military. It really stabilized me.”
Williams used his idle time to learn photography and to play the guitar. He took classes and learned three languages and obtained an international drivers license so he could have free range of Europe.
He often drove people to their vacation spots and saw a lot of the countryside, including France, Sweden, Norway and Spain.
The Army unit spent holidays with an orphanage and made sure the children there were tended to.
“Of all the countries that I’ve traveled in, I will pick America No. 1, every time,” he said. “I will take them for fun, but when you get down to the real gritty, America is No. 1. …. A lot of people want to down America, but I’ll say this, ‘America may not be perfect but it’ better than any other country that I have visited in my life.”
Williams said he was thankful he made it back from the war safely and he never served where the conflict was active.
“I tried to utilize my time,” he said. “A lot of these guys would go and drink beer and get all knocked out. I didn’t do that. I just I got married … Thank God I didn’t do that. I was trying to learn something.”
Williams also works with the Mayor’s Veteran Roundtable with the City of Tyler. He also focuses his time on his church family. The church is active in the community and serves as a polling place, disaster shelter, public meeting host, and participates in numerous food and supply drives.
Through it all, Williams said, his biggest supporter has been his wife of 48 years, Virgie. The couple has two children, La Metra Duncan and Eric E. Williams.
“In my prayers I’m rewarded in many ways by health, strength and a free conscience,” he said. “I get up in the morning and I’m thankful that I can give and help someone else.”