Carter Williams, 95, died following a decline in health Wednesday, March 27, in Wesley Chapel, Fla., at the home of his daughter and son-in-law, Marnie and Kip Bennett.
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Please join the family in a celebration of Carter's life 4-8 p.m. Friday, April 19, in the Grill Room at the Meadowlark Country Club.
His other three children; a granddaughter; and a devoted caregiver were also by his side at the time of his passing. Carter was preceded in death by his parents, Johnny and Ruth Williams; his beloved wife, Judy Birch Williams; and his three younger sisters, Wanda Barthelow, Doris "Ducky" Burke and Nan Slusher.
Carter is survived by son Mark Williams of Seeley Lake and Mark's daughters, Katie and Madeline and their mother, Ginger; daughter Marnie Williams Bennett and Kip Bennett of Wesley Chapel and their daughter, Sydney Price and son Joshua Bennett; son Fred Williams and Mollie McGill of Boulder, Colo., and Fred's sons, Carter Williams, Issac Williams, Reece Yapuncich and his wife Jenel and Mollie's sons, Jack and Alex Guerin; and daughter Beth Williams and Doug Pewitt also of Seeley Lake.
Carter Williams played his final hand in the cribbage game of life, pegging out at age 95. He passed as he lived, persevering to the end and leaving the world in his wake. He will be missed by myriad people whose lives he touched with his keen intellect and sharp wit. Born of humble beginnings on a ranch near Whitehall, to Johnny and Ruth Williams, he spent his early years in a one-room mining shack with dirt floors in Elkhorn. Dad later moved to Boulder when his father became deputy sheriff of Jefferson County. Graduating from Jefferson County High School, he attended the University of Montana, graduating with a degree in economics and a subsequent law degree.
Refusing to allow school and later work to interfere with enjoying life became a recurring theme for Dad. He and his good friend Bob Fletcher lit out for Europe in 1937, billing themselves as Montana cowboys. They spent 10 months bicycling through pre-World War II Europe where they encountered people from all walks of life, including Mussolini's son-in-law, members of Hitler's Youth Movement and the ruler of Ireland. One of the stories Dad told often was of sitting around a bonfire with two Scottish boys, Bertie Brash and John, and two German boys, Otto and Ivan, who were members of Hitler's Youth Movement. Otto posed the question, "What will you do when war comes?" a very foreign thought to Americans in 1937. Carter took that question to heart and wrote an original oration, winning first place in both the University of Montana and later the Montana State Oratorical Competition.
Following his return from Europe aboard an Italian tramp steamer where he developed an aversion to anything resembling pasta, he finished his law degree, graduating at the top of his class. After Pearl Harbor, he enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training program, becoming a flight instructor prior to joining the Air Transport Command of the Army Air Corps. Having dodged an assignment flying "the Hump," when one of his crew was diagnosed with trench foot and the crew was disbanded, Dad was reassigned and spent the latter war years stationed in Tripoli, Libya, in North Africa. Here he spent his time flying C46s east and west along the Mediterranean, playing tennis, winning poker games, riding motorcycles and generally making the world safe from serious military protocol.
Dad and his friend Bjarne Johnson joined their law practice with the established firm of I.W. Church and George Harris, creating the firm of Church, Harris, Johnson and Williams in 1949. He met his wife of 62 years, Judy Birch, during his early years working as an attorney in the Ford Building. They married in March of 1949. They began their life together doing three of his favorite things: skiing in Sun Valley, dancing with his beloved Judy and playing poker. Later they would travel together to the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway, the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, sail through the Caribbean and visit Mexico with friends. Kids showed up, beginning with Mark in 1951, Marnie in 1953 and Fred and Beth, the twins in 1958. His time in Great Falls was divided between family, the law firm, his various real estate adventures and his many civic duties. In addition to forming the United Way of Cascade County, he was president of the Cascade County Chapter of the American Red Cross, a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers farm club board of directors, president of the Montana Tennis Association and a founding member of the Benefis Hospital Foundation. He was also, and perhaps most importantly, a founding member of the Great Falls Ski Bums, a group dedicated to fostering the irresponsible pursuit of fun on long upturned sticks on a steep, slippery surface.
Dad often credited his success, professionally and personally, to his ability to pick good partners: Bill Croft of Croft Petroleum; his boyhood friend, Glenn Kyler and the Kyler Ranch; his law partners, starting with Bjarne Johnson; his tennis partners; his indispensable assistant of 34 years, Janet Connolly; and the greatest partner of all, his devoted wife Judy. Other business successes included Big Sky Lake Properties near Seeley Lake and Sourdough Creek Properties in Bozeman.
Dad enjoyed the challenges of his business endeavors, which helped keep his fertile mind engaged. Although none of his children followed his path into the world of law or ranching, they did school him in skiing, windsurfing and hunting. In a moment of introspection, he said all things being equal, he would have rather been a ski instructor. He did give it his best shot, taking to the slopes every chance he got until his 90th year. Ever generous, he included the extended family, in-laws, out-laws, kids, grandkids and peripheral friends on his ski vacations. He effectively imparted the ski gene to his kids and grandkids, and their lives are richer because of it.
As much as Dad was devoted to enjoying his recreational pursuits, he was also devoted to family, extended family and clearly understood the importance of giving back and leaving a positive legacy. The Williams-Ario Emergency Room in Great Falls and the Glenn Kyler Tennis Courts in Boulder are testaments to Dad's generosity.
Vacations and family gatherings – at the cabin on Seeley Lake, skiing in Vail, Purgatory and Sun Valley, windsurfing on the North Shore of Maui, scuba diving in Martinique and Kauai or helicopter skiing in Canada – often centered around the cribbage board, where he schooled all comers in the finer points of the game. Although at times these gatherings seemed more like "cribbage camp" than family fun, they demonstrated Dad's passion for engaging with his family.
Following the loss of his beloved Judy in November of 2011, Dad went to visit Marnie and Kip in Wesley Chapel last April. The warmth of Marnie and Kip's welcome and the Florida sunshine were enough, and he, in true Carter fashion, invited himself to stay. With the exception of a five-week visit to Montana and the cabin on Seeley Lake last summer, Dad spent his final months with Marnie and Kip.
Dad exited the world in the same way he inhabited it, fiercely determined to do and be the best in all aspects of his life that he could control. In his later years with deafness and blindness overtaking him and shrinking his environment to a cocoon of family and an inner circle of caregivers and friends, he looked upon life with happy bemusement, still claiming to be the luckiest guy on the planet. He truly woke each morning with a song in his heart. He provided a role model for all. Humble yet wise, smart and yet unassuming, he always expected the best of himself and his kids. He will be remembered as the man who taught us to snow ski, water ski, windsurf, hunt and treat people as equals regardless of their social standing. Every cribbage game well played, ski run enjoyed, joke well told and poem recited by memory provide a testament to this remarkable man.
Carter Williams has caught the first gondola to the Pearly Gates and in Ski Bum parlance he is "skiing elsewhere." Après ski, if you listen you might hear "one more sip, won't sink the ship. Hallelue!"
Memorials suggested to the Benefis Healthcare Foundation, P.O. Box 7008, Great Falls, MT 59406-7008.
Condolences may be posted online at www.gftribune.com/obituaries.
Published in Great Falls Tribune on Apr. 3, 2013