Joseph Williams Obituary


Joseph Hill Williams CHARLESTON – Joseph Hill Williams died peacefully on April 27, 2023. He was noted for being both an innovative energy industry leader and an avid conservationist. Williams was born in Tulsa, OK on June 2, 1933. He was raised in Camden, SC and educated at St. Paul’s School and Yale University. In 1959, after serving two years in the U.S. Army in Germany, he joined Williams Brothers, a family-owned engineering and pipeline construction company, and predecessor to the publicly owned Williams Companies, headquartered in Tulsa, OK. He retired in Charleston in 2009. Williams learned the family business from the ground up, spending seven years building pipelines across Iran in the 1960s. Later, he became Chairman and CEO of the Williams Companies (1979-1994), where he was noted for successfully and profitably refocusing the company back to its core energy-related businesses in continental pipeline transportation and the gathering and processing of natural gas. In the late 1980s, Williams also built one of the earliest nationwide fiber optic cable networks through its decommissioned pipelines, an innovation that provided critical infrastructure underlying the telecommunications revolution. Williams was active in many conservation leadership roles. After returning to the United States from Iran in 1968, he noticed how rapidly the natural places he loved were being lost to development. He became a local, state, and national leader for conservation. He founded the Oklahoma Nature Conservancy in 1986 and became the Chairman of the Global Board of Directors for The Nature Conservancy. Most notable was his galvanizing leadership to preserve one of the last intact expanses of native tallgrass prairie in North America outside of Pawhuska, Oklahoma. He brought together business leaders, conservationists, scientists, ranchers, tribal leaders, and others in a collaborative effort to purchase the 29,000-acre Barnard Ranch in 1989, which was later re-named “The Joseph H Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.” The preserve is now 40,000 acres with 2,500 bison roaming the native prairie. Williams was also active in many other leadership roles. He served as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and served on the boards of American Express, Prudential Financial Company, the Bank of Oklahoma, Orvis, and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. He was a Life Trustee of Yale University and received the Yale Medal. He also was a Trustee of St. Paul’s School and The University of Tulsa. He was elected to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame and to the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame. Williams was a member of Augusta National Golf Club, Linville Golf Club, and Yeamans Hall Club. Williams will be remembered for his passion for life and world view, his personal warmth and humor, and most of all, his integrity. His parting words on most occasions will live on in all he touched: “Go your best”. He is survived by his wife, Terry, three sons and two stepdaughters; Joseph H. Williams, jr.; Peter B. Williams; James C. Williams; Margot T. Rose; Jennifer B. Ross; and seven grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Yale School of the Environment ( or The Nature Conservancy in South Carolina ( Visit our guestbook at

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Published by Charleston Post & Courier from Apr. 29 to Apr. 30, 2023.
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Joe and I were classmates and fraternity brothers at Yale. I was so pleased to read of his interest in the environment, particularly The Nature Conservancy, one of my favorite causes. My love and best wishes and prayers to his family –may the souls of all the departed rest in peace.
Lin Knight

Hollinshead T. (Lin) Knight
May 7, 2023

It is with a heavy heart that I learned of the loss of Joe Williams.
As a former member of the Williams Board of directors it is difficult for me to reconcile the warm gentle and welcoming experience I had during my years in Tulsa with the history of Black Wall Street.
Joe Williams and the Williams corporate family both demonstrated and nurtured a different and welcoming experience.
No one can erase history although some portions of our society seem intent on doing so. However, rather than erasing history we must learn from it and live our lives in ways that demonstrate and reflect personal choices consistent with a different perspective.
The Wiliams family, both personal and corporate, lived and demonstrated lives that reflected values which cannot erase Black Wall Street, but which modeled a better and greater Tulsa.
Joe will be missed, but not forgotten.

Bill Green
May 7, 2023

What a wonderful, wonderful man I was privileged to be associated with for over 30 years. He will be missed but the legacy’s he left behind will live on forever. God’s speed Joe Williams!

Financial Company, the

Patrick Milligan
May 5, 2023

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Peter and family, I’m sorry for your loss. He had such a beautiful life and has left a wonderful legacy. May you find peace in this difficult time.

Andy Gorman
May 1, 2023

Dear Terry, Joe, Peter, Jamie, Margot, & Jennifer:
first of all, thank you to Terry, as well as your 5 children for loving Joe so hard and so long as many of us have done. I just had this feeling in sending a message to Jamie within the past two weeks. ‘sixth sense?’ — unexplainable. — Terry, just thank you! —– so I now have lost my Godfather and Godmother (Penny & Joe). I can’t help bit cry a bit, a void. Jamie, our mom-your Godmother, loved you like her own. all 3 Williams sons. So. my testimony, my promise to both of my Godparents, to help humanity – always!

I love you Joe, and thank you for making a wonderful impact upon my life.

Tim, Lynse, and Adam Morgan

born in

Timothy Morgan
May 1, 2023

So sorry for Joe´s passing. Although we haven´t seen him in a number of years, we have fond memories of the times spent together as a family. Blessings to the family.