Joseph L. Williams


Joseph L. Williams_60f186197d15b.jpeg

Joseph L. Williams

March 1, 1943 – July 10, 2021

Obituary for Joseph L. Williams

J.L. “Sonny” Williams, long-time local business leader and minority owner of the Dallas Mavericks, peacefully passed away in his home surrounded by family on July 10, 2021. He was 78 years old. He and his wife, Gretchen Minyard Williams, her sister, Liz Minyard and cousin, Bob Minyard ran Minyard Food Stores, Inc. Together, they built a billion-dollar business which grew to become one of the largest family-owned supermarket chains in Texas. The grocery business was in Sonny’s blood from an early age. He started working for Minyard as a 13-year-old package clerk, working his way up the company ladder to eventually become president and chief operating officer of the local supermarket chain. Sonny was born on March 1, 1943, in Memphis, Tennessee, to Pauline Goza Williams. His mother, a single mother of three, moved her family to Dallas in 1956 and was soon offered a job at the newly-opened Minyard Food Store at Peavy and Garland Road in East Dallas. With Sonny by her side when she accepted the job, H.J. “Hap” Minyard, one of five siblings who together co-founded the company, asked the young teen what he could do. Sonny quickly answered that he could sack groceries. Hap told him to show up with his mom the next Monday and start bagging. Little did he know that his part-time job would turn into a lifetime career. Sonny worked his way through school, attending W.H. Gaston Middle School and then Bryan Adams High School, where he graduated in 1961. While still in high school, he became an assistant store manager, and less than a year after graduation, Sonny was promoted to store manager of the Minyard store where he first sacked and stocked groceries. He was just 19 years old, the youngest store manager in the history of the company. Committed to furthering his education, Sonny attended Dallas Baptist University while working fulltime as a store manager. He proudly earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1970. Proving himself to be an innovative executive and savvy businessman, Sonny continued to rise through the ranks. After managing a store for 10 years, he was promoted to district manager, corporate vice-president, then executive vice-president and general manager in charge of retail operations in 1980. In 1987, he was named company president. Under his leadership, Minyard Food Stores Inc. grew to as many as 83 stores with 7,200 employees before it was sold to an investment group in 2004. Sonny said his proudest moment as company president was buying 27 Safeway stores in 1987 and opening 24 of those in just five days. Three others opened only a few months later. Other company milestones during his tenure included reaching a billion dollars in annual sales and creating two other divisions, Sack’n Save Warehouse Food Stores and Carnival Food Stores. After almost 50 years in the supermarket industry and not the type to retire, Sonny and his wife continued to own and operate a number of other businesses including Highland Park Soda Fountain, a 106-year-old Institution on Knox Street they purchased in 2006 before closing it in 2018, and Power House of Dance, a dance studio that trained the Dallas Mavericks Dancers which they purchased in 2007 and sold in 2017. Sonny was an avid sports enthusiast and collector of autographed memorabilia, and he turned that lifetime passion into shrewd business deals. In the late 1990’s, he became minority owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA franchise. He considered it an honor to be part of the Mavericks ownership and enjoyed watching majority owner Mark Cuban take the team to the highest levels and give back so generously to the community. He was also the former owner of professional indoor soccer’s Dallas Sidekicks, first sharing ownership with Don Carter for five seasons before becoming majority owner of the championship-winning team in 2002. Sonny had a passion for excellence, an unparalleled work ethic, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a gift for mentorship. Though his business dealings seemed wide and varied, they were all service-oriented with a common thread of improving the lives of others, both customers and employees alike. He loved helping people in his humble and unassuming way, and as a result, touched the lives of countless colleagues, family and friends. But Sonny was the first to say it was the guidance and role modeling he received from his mentors that gave him the will to succeed. First, there was his mother Pauline who always worked two jobs and, along with his two sisters Beverly and Mary, made sure he had everything he needed. Sonny said, “We were poor, but never knew it.” He also credits M.T. “Buddy” Minyard, his father-in-law and co-founder of Minyard Food Stores Inc., with teaching him to live by the Golden Rule. He quickly learned that to treat people how you want to be treated was just as important in the business world as it was in one’s personal life. Others that Sonny considered valued business mentors were Don Carter and his wife Linda, the Dallas Mavericks’ co-founder and first majority owner; Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim, co-founder of Pilgrim’s Pride; Pete Schenkel, former president of Dean Foods Dairy Group; and Jim Turner, principal of JLT Beverages, L.P. and former owner, chairman and CEO of the company he founded, Dr Pepper Bottling Co. of Texas. If Sonny couldn’t figure something out, he knew these industry leaders, who he regarded as good friends, would listen, be honest, and offer sound advice. Sonny’s business philosophy was founded on the belief that “people make the difference.” He credited all of the people he worked with for his many successes and counted his 48 years with Minyard Food Stores as the best memories of his life as well as a place where he made so many lifelong friends. As active as he was in business, Sonny was just as active as a volunteer. He served as an elected member of the Dallas County Community College District Board of Trustees, representing District 1 in Texas since 2006. He served as Chair of the Audit Committee since 2016 and was a member of the Finance Committee since 2018. Other civic contributions included serving on the Board of Directors of the State Fair of Texas, SMU Athletic Forum, GuideStone, Dallas Baptist University as former chairman, American Red Cross as former vice chairman and member, as well as the Russell H. Perry Free Enterprise Foundation. Throughout his illustrious career, Sonny was bestowed a number of awards including an Honorary Doctorate from Dallas Baptist University, the Virginia Dykes Leadership Award in 2005, Father of the Year Honoree in 2004, YWCA of Metropolitan Dallas’ Family of the Year Award in 2001, Russell H. Perry Free Enterprise Award from Dallas Baptist University in 1994, KXAS-TV Texan of the Week in 1994, and Dallas Baptist University’s Outstanding Alumnus Award in 1990. A man of great faith who was taught by his mother that you meet the best people in church, Sonny was a member of Casa View Baptist Church for more than 50 years. There he taught Sunday school and coached girls softball and boys baseball teams, both of which had championship winning seasons. He and his wife are now members of Park Cities Baptist Church in North Dallas. Sonny is survived by the love of his life, business partner and wife of 43 years, Gretchen Minyard Williams; daughter, Claire Caywood and husband Chase; son, Connor Williams; granddaughter, Ivy Lisbeth Caywood; twin sister, Mary Ann Williams Barber and husband, Perry; sister-in-law, Liz Minyard Lokey; nephew, Steve Curtis and wife, Brenda; niece, Nita Tucker and husband, Don; and many grandnieces and nephews. In addition to his mother, he is preceded in death by his sister, Beverly Curtis and nephew, Bryan Curtis. Visitation will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 15, at Restland, 13005 Greenville Ave., Dallas, Texas, 75243. Following a private graveside service, a memorial service will be held beginning at 2 p.m. on Friday, July 16, at Park Cities Baptist Church, 3933 W. Northwest Highway, Dallas, Texas, 75225. Former Minyard Food Stores employees in attendance are invited to wear their company name badges. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to the Sonny and Gretchen Williams Scholarship Fund, Dallas Baptist University, 3000 Mountain Parkway, Dallas, Texas, 75211; Leukemia Texas, 4925 N. O’Connor Blvd Suite 125, Irving, TX 75062; or esophageal cancer research at Baylor Scott & White. Go online or send to: BSW CTX Foundation, MS-20-S103, 2401 S. 31st Street, Temple, TX 76508.

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