If you live in Ladysmith, chances are you’ve heard one of Jim (James) Williams’s famous stories or jokes, or perhaps even been handed one of his Werther’s Original candies.
But the bright-eyed, quick-minded local icon, best known for his conversations, confections and ocean catches will wander First Avenue no more after passing away on July 22 at the age of 80.
Williams was born and raised in Vanderhoof until leaving school to relocate to Revelstoke to work for the CPR. There, he met the love of his life, Dolly, and together they married and had four children. In 1961, Williams moved his family back to Revelstoke to farm, and two more children completed their family of eight.
The Williams family came to Ladysmith in 1971 and wouldn’t relocate again.
“He moved down to the Island and he just loved it here,” said his son, Raymond. “He loved his grandkids, and he was a good dad.”
Many residents may remember Williams from his 40 years as a commercial fisherman, a job he held onto until his retirement at age 78.
“People would always be waiting at the dock when he came in,” Raymond said. “He was pretty generous with his weights.”
Ingrid James, owner of the Printingdun Beanery, said Williams’s kindness was one of the main reasons she moved to Ladysmith years ago. James was with her mother, who was buying prawns from Williams’s boat, when he asked her why she was not buying any.
“I couldn’t afford them because I was a single mom with three little kids,” she explained.
But Williams would not take no for an answer, and he introduced her to what he called the “single mother discount.”
“I remember him opening up the [hatch] and you’d go down and there was all these five-gallon buckets,” James said. “He’d reach down and pull one out, and it was just teaming with prawns and he’d say ‘yup, that one looks to be about $10.’”
Williams also sold his prawns and fresh lingcod to Bouma’s Meats on First Avenue. Store owner Paul Bouma and Owen Borgerson said neither the fish nor his stories were ever in short supply.
“Where do you start with someone like Jim,” Bouma said. “I’m going to miss him poking his head in [the store] every morning.”
Borgerson recalled showing Williams a special quarter he found, which resulted in a tale about how Williams found a valuable purse at 16 years old while out hunting. The police couldn’t identify the owner and signed over the funds to Williams, who purchased a plot of land with it.
Bouma remembers a story he would tell about a massive sturgeon he caught at 14 years old. Williams said they had to get a tractor to help pull it out of the water.
“Any subject or story you ever came up with, he’d have one better to tell you,” Borgerson said. “Whether or not they were true is a different story. He was boundless.”
Melody Smythies from the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce concurred.
“He was such a nice guy,” she said. “He’d come in and say hi and shoot the breeze about anything.”
A celebration of Williams’s life is planned for Thurs., Aug. 2 from 1-4 p.m. at the Eagles Hall. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to children’s charities, which had a special place in Williams’s heart.
“Ladysmith is going to miss him, for sure,” James said.