FORT VALLEY -- Barbara Williams has been a high school band director, taught in the public schools and on the college level and run a business.
The 63-year-old grandmother also has served on City Council for 16 years and volunteers at her church’s soup kitchen.
Tuesday, Williams ousted longtime incumbent Mayor John Stumbo by 70 votes. She garnered 643 votes to 573 cast for Stumbo.
“Hard work and a lot of prayer, of course,” Williams said when asked how she did it. “I don’t think I have any unique strategies that we used. We just got the communication out there. The signage helped, the appearances helped, the talking to the people, talking to the citizens helped.
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“And, of course, the fact that we have a background of being genuine with people helped also. ... I’ve been here since 1989 and, of course, my husband served in the same position for about two years and he died in office. So, I was not new to the community,” she said.
Noting Williams’ diligent work on council, Stumbo said he wants “the very best” for her.
“I hope she’s able to get accomplished all she wants to get accomplished and I certainly will do all I can to facilitate a smooth transition to make it as easy as possible for her,” Stumbo said.
Stumbo said he has no regrets.
“I had an incredible 16 years, and I loved every minute of it,” he said.
While in the middle of her fourth four-year term on council, Williams said she decided she would definitely run for mayor after talking about it with her family and seeking support from strategic leaders in the community, she said. Williams said she had been thinking about it for several years before deciding to run.
“For Valley is a diverse community that’s full of opportunities,” Williams said. “I think they just need someone to help them identify those opportunities and foster the environment where in they can implement opportunities.”
Williams has a number of dreams and visions for the community. Here’s a look at a few of those ideas.
A dinner and a ride
For a tourism, Williams said she wants to “court the idea” of a dinner and a ride by working with the community to create a passenger train route for Fort Valley.
Her idea is to create a short rail line “even if it only goes to Perry” in which riders can enjoy the nostalgia of a train ride, while promoting Fort Valley’s history.
“The rail has been part of Fort Valley’s history for a long time,” Williams said. “We used to have a passenger train that would come through here. Now we still have freight trains that come through. It would be a good idea to make that work to our advantage.”
The same engine that pulls the freight train can also pull a passenger train, she noted.
A sit-down restaurant
Currently, the city enjoys only two dine-in restaurants, she said. One offers Mexican food and the other Chinese cuisine. Williams said she’ll work to lure a restaurant where people can enjoy a nice meal other than fast-food and not have to drive to Perry or Byron and spend their money in those cities rather than in Fort Valley.
A recreation complex
Williams said she would like to see the development of a recreational complex to include a bowling alley, arcade, movie theater and other amenities. She wants to woo a developer to come in and build it.
She said a recreational center would provide a wealth of opportunities for college students, while also providing jobs.
But how will she make it happen?
“First of all, people have to buy into the idea and then we have knowledgeable people in the community that would have resources as to who developers are and it’s just a matter, then, of trying to court developers (and) sell the idea to them,” Williams said.
Public-private partnerships might be another avenue that could be explored for the project, she said.
Williams said she plans to spend some time researching on the matter.
The roundtable is expected to comprise of community leaders to include representatives in such fields as education, religion and farming. The roundtable would meet every two or three months, and council members would be asked to appoint one to two members, Williams said.
She said she wants people in the community to have more input.
A Reynolds native, Williams grew up in Crawford County, attended Fort Valley State University, where she met the late Jimmy L. Williams. She served 18 years at the Dooly County High School band director, the first female band director at the high school level in Georgia, according to her online biography.
She moved to Fort Valley with her husband when he became the assistant superintendant for Peach County schools. He was also the pastor of the Central Union Missionary Baptist Church, where she continues to serve today. She served as band director at Fort Valley Middle School and later taught at Fort Valley State University. She served a total of 40 years in education.
Williams has won the respect, support and friendship of Public Safety Director Lawrence Spurgeon.
“I think she’ll do an outstanding job,” said Spurgeon, who first got to know Williams when her husband was mayor and he was an intern at the police department in 1995. “She has a lot of unique characteristics. She’s very emphatic. She has a good spirit and good sense of fairness. With employees’ interest, she takes time to weigh the issues and tries to be as fair and even handed as possible.”
He most recently has interacted with Williams in her role on council and his roles as police chief and then as public safety director over police and fire.
“I know that she’s a very humble person,” Spurgeon said. “She’ll listen to council which is always advantages in anything.
“I will do anything I can do to help her. ... She knows she has my support,” he said.
Williams takes office in January.
“I’m excited about serving the people,” Williams said. “I’m excited about the fact that they gave me the vote of confidence that they gave, and I don’t plan to let them down.”
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.