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Chuck Williams Obituary

1915 - 2015
Chuck Williams (Mark Aronoff / The Press Democrat via AP, File)
Chuck Williams, founder of the high-end home goods empire Williams-Sonoma, died peacefully of natural causes Saturday at his San Francisco home, The Associated Press and San Francisco Chronicle report. He was 100.

Born Oct. 2, 1915, Williams came by his love of cooking by baking with his grandmother in her Jacksonville, Florida, kitchen. The Great Depression took the family to Southern California, to which Williams returned after serving as a mechanic with the Army during World War II. A golf trip with friends introduced him to Sonoma, and, enamored with the then-sleepy town, Williams relocated there in 1947.

Inspired by a fateful trip to Paris with fellow food enthusiasts, Williams purchased the Sonoma Hardware store in 1956 and began offering Americans the kind of high-quality cookware and culinary tools he'd admired in France. The store proved an instant success, and in 1958 Williams-Sonoma relocated to San Francisco. With the publication of Julia Childs' classic "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," America's taste for haute cuisine exploded, and Williams-Sonoma's fortunes rose, with another major expansion of the San Francisco store and a flourishing catalog business.

Williams sold the company in 1979, but he remained closely involved in many crucial facets of the business up until his death, such as his authorship of many titles in the company's noted cookbook line.

"He worked on over 50 titles that have sold over 100 million copies worldwide," said Patrick Connolly, executive vice president of Williams-Sonoma, to the San Franciso Chronicle.

Lauded with numerous awards over his career, including spots in the Halls of Fame for both the Culinary Institute of America and the Direct Marketing Association and a lifetime achievement award from the James Beard Foundation, Williams is lauded by many for helping to revolutionize and diversify American cooking.

"With his impeccable taste and unique talent for selecting the right products at the right time, he built a powerful brand that inspired a cultural revolution around food and had immeasurable impact on home and family life around the world," said Janet Hayes, Williams-Sonoma brand president.