Carleton Williams CBE, role model extraordinaire, gentleman, scholar, philanthropist and nation builder has passed from time to eternity.
Mr. and Mrs. Williams, very close friends of my parents, knew me before I knew myself. He was a larger than life figure, an icon, who exemplifies exceptionalism at the highest level, however it is defined.
He often spoke of his parents Mr. Samuel Williams, a businessman and contractor, St. Agnes Anglican Church Catechist and pillar of the community and Mrs. Nellie Williams, wife, mother, the Catechist’s wife, ACW member and another pillar of the community. Their home in Bain Town was an important part of the community and they worked hard to provide for their family. From their home life and by their example, he told me that he learned the values that shaped his life.
Growing up in the 1960s, children referred to their parents’ friends using an affectionate term like aunt or uncle. No child would dare to call an adult by their first name. Growing up, the friends of Mr. and Mrs. Williams’ children called them “Bykes” and “Tweens”. For me, saying Bykes was the same as saying Daddy. He was a second father.
Bykes believed that every human being is equal to others, all being made in the image of God. Although black Bahamians were discriminated against, and too frequently treated as commodities, when he was growing up, I never heard him express any bitterness. Rather, he celebrated what he and others had overcome and embraced every opportunity, quietly and meaningfully, to give a hand up.
The Anglican Church was important to him and up until the pandemic, he regularly participated in communal worship. Many churches benefitted from his generosity. He was an advisor to at least three bishops and numerous priests. He knew his Bible inside out and discussed religion without ever forcing his views on anyone. His life and example attested to his spirituality.
Bykes loved his family. His wife, Katherina, was his life partner for more than 65 years. His children Mickey Williams, Debi Williams and Cyndi Williams-Rahming were the apples of his eye, only surpassed by his grandchildren Carleton Seve and Tatum Williams. His siblings and their families also gave him great joy. Coming from a big family you might think that he would limit his focus to his blood relatives. Not so. His children’s friends became his children. We were always welcome at the Williams’ home where we had lots of fun and benefitted from his prudent advice. As well, Bykes always wanted to know how we were doing, before he asked whether we were doing well in school. He placed a premium on a good education and good manners, both of which would assure that we would be able to make a living, feed our families and make a meaningful contribution to society. The thing is that his circle increased as the children of his children’s friends also became his grandchildren. He called them by name. He was Grandpa Bykes. They loved being around him as he listened carefully to what they were saying and gently challenged them.
Bykes was a nation builder, whose influence was felt in many arenas. For him work was not just about making money, it was about making a difference. This man from Bain Town made a difference, in the public and private sectors, before he became full time entrepreneur and one of the most prominent Bahamian businessmen. National Products, McDonalds and Caribbean Bottling Company are a few of his success stories. Many of today’s successful public servants, CEOs, managers and businessmen, and I, have benefitted from his mentorship and advice.
Like so many of his generation, no matter their party affiliation, he sacrificed to make a difference in the political arena. He wanted to create a Bahamas where, the world could see people who looked like him running our own affairs and future generations would be confident that, capably, we could govern ourselves. Excellence was his standard. A call from Carleton Williams was answered whether it was made to the Governor General, Prime Minister, Chief Justice, Governor of the Central Bank, or CEO of any national or international bank or other entity.
As he frequently said, being in charge on one’s destiny was one thing and having the wherewithal to make a difference was another. He realized that there were many other young Carleton Williamses in The Bahamas and this is why his philanthropic endeavours, those known (like the Salvation Army) and those unknown (he quietly helped thousands of Bahamians and innumerable causes) knew no bounds. Also, he made time to speak to, mentor and encourage young people, from all walks of life, to think, have good manners, work hard and excel.
He was a deep thinker and lifelong learner who, having entered the workplace after he left Government High School, obtained his MBA from the University of Miami in his 50s. He was proud of his children’s accomplishments and enjoyed the accomplishments of their friends also. I shall never forget his emotion and pride on the day of Seve’s call to the Bar. And, recently in chats, he spoke, with such pride, of Tatum having achieved her PhD and her talent being valued internationally, at her workplace and elsewhere. He read incessantly. A conversation with him would range from family and friends to philosophy and religion, national and international politics, books, making a difference, and so much more. He was a deep thinker and enjoyed stimulating conversation.
Bykes was also a man of good taste and sophistication. His stylish shoes were always clean and trousers and shirt collars properly pressed. No one could, through attire, celebrate seasons or special occasions as well as he. I can see his red plaid trousers for Christmas and his yellow trousers Panama hat in Spring.
Carleton Williams was a wise man, of impeccable integrity, a gracious consensus builder and possessed with great business acumen. These qualities were widely sought after by various NGOs, national and international banks and businesses and public entities, including the Central Bank, on whose boards he served with distinction. His stellar reputation was such that, years after his retirement, when, as a Cabinet Minister, I was on a Bahamas promotional trip to Brazil, a banker spoke in glowing terms of his sagacity. I was so proud.
For his many contributions to nation building, Her Majesty named him Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE). Some of his many other awards include Businessman of the Year – Bahamas Chamber of Commerce, Paul Harris Fellow – The Rotary Club and the Salvation Army Others Award. Caribbean Bottling Company has named a scholarship in his honour.
Carleton Williams, a son of Samuel and Nellie Williams, grew from humble beginnings to honoured elder and patriotic statesman, nation builder, extraordinarily successful businessman, advisor to national and international leaders, honoree of Her Majesty the Queen and much more. At the end of the day he treasured being a good husband, father, grandfather, sibling, uncle, mentor and loyal friend. He was an excellent role model. Bykes frequently asked, “how will it make a difference”? His life made a difference, nationally and internationally.
My husband Max, my family and I extend condolences and supportive prayers to Tweens, Mickey, Debi, Cyndi (Ray), Seve, Tatum, his siblings and his entire family.
Thank you Bykes for your example of a life well lived.
Rest in peace.