In November 2017, Jerry Williams moved into Arabella of Longview. He’s an independent sort and kept to himself most of the time. Then one day, he was relaxing, watching his fellow residents play a game indoors when one of the game balls bounced away from the players and toward Jerry. On his way to return the ball to the players, Jerry began bouncing the ball like someone quite comfortable with basketball, and that sparked a conversation.
“I saw Jerry bouncing the ball so effortlessly, so I asked him if he’d ever played basketball before,” Rhonda Colby, Activity Director, Assisted Living, Arabella of Longview. “He lit up as he told me about his glory days playing hoops! At that moment, I knew we had to celebrate his talent in a special way.”
Jerry played basketball for the Gladewater High School Bears from 1946 to 1949. He wore number 19 and played point guard. Under the leadership of head coach Theo Rigsby, Jerry was one of only two players allowed to shoot free throws overhand. At that time, underhand free throws were considered more accurate. Coach Rigsby once told Jerry that he was a very good player, but he’d have to grow a few inches if he wanted to qualify for a scholarship to play basketball in college. He may not have been tall enough to get a scholarship to play college ball, but he did go on to play basketball in the United States Air Force. He played for three years at the Tyndell Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida.
Basketball wasn’t the only thing Jerry excelled at. He played tennis for Gladewater High School from 1945 to 1949. He was also named to the Who’s Who list as a first chair Trombone player in the band. He and his bandmates, under the direction of legendary band director Alto Tatum, won first place at the Lion’s Club International Competition in New York City and were able to march down 5th Avenue in a parade! In his senior year of high school, Jerry was named the Most Handsome Student and the Band Vice President. He was a member of the student council, President of the National Honor Society, and graduated Valedictorian of the Gladewater High School Class of 1949!
On February 13, Jerry’s family, friends, the former Mayor and Postmaster of Gladewater, current Gladewater High School students, faculty, and families gathered in the gym at the high school to honor the legendary Jerry Williams. A table with classic photos and a vintage letter jacket allowed guests to take a peek at Jerry’s glory days. The varsity basketball team coaches and players presented Jerry with a signed basketball, then Jerry dazzled everyone with his hoop skills.
“It’s been an absolutely wonderful experience all around,” Rhonda said. “We at Arabella of Longview are so grateful for this happy accident. We have gotten to know Jerry and so many things that make him special. Jerry and his family and friends are now more connected to the community here. We all get to win!”