John was born and raised in Dos Palos, CA, a small farming community in the Central Valley best known for its cotton and cantaloupe fields and championship high school football teams. After graduating in 1970, John was awarded a scholarship by AFS International to become an exchange student in Genval, Belgium where he lived for one year with a French-speaking family and attended the equivalent of a 5th year of high school and played club basketball throughout the country.
After returning to the States, John entered Cal and pledged SAE Cal Beta in the fall of 1971. According to John, “It was a no-brainer decision. SAE had the best guys and the best parties. Plus, they promised me a single room my freshman year. In fact, I never had a roommate during my entire 3 ½ years at Cal.” John held just about every officer position at Cal Beta including steward, rush and social chairman, treasurer and EA. It was his term as Treasurer that helped him understand that he was much better at numbers and business concepts than pre-med studies (e.g. organic chemistry). John graduated with honors from the Business School (before it was called Haas) and went to work in San Francisco for the large public accounting firm of Haskins & Sells, now called Deloitte. John also received his MBA from Haas in 1980, one of the first graduates of their newly created San Francisco Evening Program.
The first Defining Moment in John’s life was the night he met his future bride, the former Liz Reiss, at a dorm party that he and SAE brother Bill Michel snuck into. While the story has probably been embellished over the years, John still maintains that he was the one to climb the tree outside the dorm, leap onto the fire escape and find the unlocked door. Long story short, Liz joined Kappa Alpha Theta the following term, became an SAE Little Sister, and the rest, as they say, is history. John and Liz were married at Fort Mason in San Francisco in the fall of 1975 with dozens of SAE’s and KAT’s in attendance.
From 1975 to 1987, John worked in the Bay Area, initially as an auditor for H&S, and then as CFO for a Silicon Valley startup International Power Technology. During these same years, Liz cut her teeth in the retail world with Macy’s of San Francisco where she rose rapidly through the ranks. Their two sons, Kyle and Lance, were born in 1984 and 1986.
In the second Defining Moment of John’s life, the Williams family left the comfort of their California roots in 1987 so that Liz could accept a new position with Dayton Hudson in Minneapolis. This was followed by moves to Chicago in 1990 (Sears) and Princeton, NJ in 1996 (Fashion Bug) where she turned around a near-bankrupt 1000 store chain. John kept finding CFO positions with startup companies, and as the boys got older, increasingly worked from home so he could be the primary stay-at-home parent and coach.
John’s love for coaching should come as no surprise. He lettered in four different sports in high school and made the Cal Freshman basketball team in 1971/1972. He is still an avid golfer, often competing in amateur tournaments around the country. In addition to coaching his sons’ baseball, basketball and football teams, he became the President of the Princeton Babe Ruth Baseball League and co-managed Lance’s 15 year-old All-Star team to Princeton’s first-ever District championship.
John has been actively involved with SAE Cal Beta alumni activities since 2009 when he retired and re-connected with Jeff Koblick who he had pledged 36 years earlier. For the last five years, John has worked closely with the Housing Corp. Board and Fraternity Management Group to manage the database and oversee the website, newsletters, fundraising activities, and more recently, distribution of the SAE Cal Beta History Book written by Paul Manolis. John oversees all this activity even though he continues to live in New Jersey (summer) and Arizona (winter) where he can keep his golf game sharp all year long. In addition to golf, John enjoys playing duplicate bridge, watching and collecting classic movies, and travelling the world.