People of Panola County made his life enjoyable
Raised in the Woods Community, Pete Williams was the second of thirteen children born to Dudley Williams and Myrtis Nolan Williams. His mother’s family was farmers from Tenaha. His dad was a sawmill man. At the age of nine, the Williams family settled in the Murvaul, Mt. Bethel community where Pete took the school bus to Gary every day. “The school bus drove us,” recalls Pete, “but I had my regular job every day, milking the cows by hand and feeding the hogs, horses, mules and chickens.”
The Williams were row-croppers, growing cotton, corn, peanuts, peas and even sugar cane. “We had the biggest cane syrup mill in the country,” said Pete. “We made a lot of syrup that last year. I remember we made over 800 gallons.”
Located between Tenaha and Gary, the Williams family gravitated toward Gary because so many relatives lived there. Going to town was a once-a-week event. “We first traveled by horse and buggy, then wagon.” The Williams’ first car was a 1935 “Model A Hoopie” which was a Model A Ford with a rumble seat his dad removed for hauling things, making it more practical. What the Williams cultivated, Gary had a market for.
“We sold corn to the neighbors. The other went to Gary—to the cotton gin and gristmill where my daddy ran the mill on Saturdays.” Pete graduated from Gary schools in 1945 one year before they went a full 12 years. He remembered cutting wood for the school heaters before they were gas.
Williams Point, at Lake Murvaul, is a historical site for the Williams family. Pete remembers around 1956 his father lost more than 396 acres to the development of Lake Murvaul. “This took a toll on my dad; he never really got over it.”
The Williams family was paid $60 per acre for land they had spent $200 per acre developing. Williams Point then served as his daddy’s bait place, and Pete owns a lake house there today. “I first felt I was throwing money away building a lake place, but it became a great salvation to our family.”
Williams Point was the place his children and so many community friends would come. The churches at both Enterprise and Carthage Missionary Baptist would spend church outings and picnics there, swimming and even trying to teach Jackie Davis’s dad how to water ski (he almost drowned and still didn’t learn). “The lake kept so many of our kids and their friends in wholesome family activities.”
Today Williams Point serves as the Williams Family Reunion spot. For the last 50 years, the first Saturday in June sees as few as 60 family members to as many as 95, with Pete as the head cook. Most recently it served for his granddaughter Aubrey Horn’s fiance’ Asa’s bachelor party.
Pete first came to Carthage at 26, having left the service. To hear him tell it, he lived quite a trip away. He began working as a roughneck, but his heart was not in it. Instead, he began a career in TV repair and service, working for Mr. Rudolph Knight.
“Pete once shared with me,” says Carlton Shamburger, longtime friend and employer of Pete, “that one of the first TV sets placed in the county was at Hawthorn Funeral Home. Hawthorn’s became the place to be, with news and events on the television. The old back porch swelled every Friday night when the Gillette Company would broadcast boxing as the ‘Gillette Fight Night.’ When one thinks of Pete, we remember him as he does when he re-introduces himself to anyone: ‘Pete Williams, old TV Man.’”
“I learned everyone in Panola County; knew where they lived,” Pete said. “They were not only customers, they were dear friends. The people of Panola County made my life joyful.”
At 28, Pete would also come to marry a young, sweet 16-year-old named Shirley Hayes.
“He was a friend to my older brother,” Shirley said. “Pete installed a TV for Momma and Daddy, then we had our first date. We were married October 29, 1961.” When asked if the age difference was an issue, Shirley just winked and said, “No, I taught him everything he needed to know.”
Pete and Shirley have three children: James, Linda and Billy. James is the oldest and works as an electrical engineer and pastor at College Station Baptist. He is married to Kimberly Earhart, and they have one daughter and granddaughter. Linda Williams Horn is married to Mark, and they have two children. Billy Williams works for Wellington well service and is married to Traci Horan. They have three children.
The TV shop, a shotgun brick structure, stood in front of the old Massey’s or Wings and Whitetails. Can you see radiating from the front window, lined up in a row, glowing tubed boxes Americans were marveled by?
Pete was saved at the age of 37 when his father’s health declined. “Dad was down with cancer, in the hospital for two years. During this time, many visiting church people and family, neighbors and friends lead to my salvation. It made all the difference in my life. I thought I was a good ole-boy before, but then I met the Lord. I’ve been about as regular as could be in church ever since; raised my family there. All of them are saved—from kids to grandkids. That’s as good as a man can have it.”
It wasn’t the decline of television popularity that led to his retirement from the repair service, but our throw-it-away-and-get-a-new-one society. Today when the TV stops, we throw it out and head for the new and shiny one.
Shamburger tells, “This was my stroke of luck! I asked Pete to come to work at Hawthorn Funeral Home. In the many years to follow, Pete would become the right-hand man in service to this old historic institution. He would come to serve the county of Panola once again. His knowledge of the families and communities of the county led to him becoming a favorite face at Hawthorn’s and serving as the Chaplain to our many families.”
“As a business man, I have modeled what I have learned knowing Pete. If I have any success in my life, it usually involves aligning myself with the right people. It was Leigh Ann Jimerson Williams who told me while at the helm of the Jimerson Funeral Home that ‘the only thing I hate about you hiring Pete is I didn’t think of it first.’ She was quite green with envy.
“But what I have truly learned from this gentle country man is that work is not a toil; it is a blessing to have the God-given strength to work. Pete’s looking towards 88 years and never sits still, but every moment is a joy. He taught me it is not the work but the people at our side who are the blessing in this life. From hand-milking the cow to a graveside service in Snap, we love the people in service to our Lord, and what this day of toil will bring to us all.
“I see every day how people from across the county and communities love Pete and feel that family connection because of what he models before us all. At Hawthorn’s, you might hear us call him Peter, ‘cause he’s the closest thing to a disciple we know.”