My father died on May 6, and we buried him Thursday. He was my biggest supporter. He and mother were present when I was sworn in at the Norfolk Office in 1982. He told everyone he met that one of his three daughters was an FBI agent, and he often wore an FBI hat, shirt, or jacket to spark a conversation about his daughter, the FBI agent.
Buford Williams lived a good life full of family, friends, and travel around the world. At 87-years-young, after a day spent playing pool in his man cave with his buddies, working in his garden, and talking to family, he laid down for a nap and peacefully left this world.
One day last fall, he let me record his life story. I wish I had done the same for my mother before she died in 1989 from breast cancer. For nearly three hours, he took me on a journey from his childhood to his retirement from his career in the Air Force. It was a journey I thought I already knew.
Buford Williams grew up in Goode and Newport News, VA. His family was so poor that to heat their home, his mother would send him out in the early morning to walk along the railroad tracks to pick up coal that had fallen off freight trains traveling through town overnight.
In 1952, when he turned 17 years old, he joined the Air Force and was assigned to bases all over the world, taking my mother, my sisters, and me along for the amazing ride.
I knew all that before I started recording.
But here’s what I didn’t know.
I didn’t know he went into the military because he saw soldiers returning home from the Korean War with new clothes and new shoes and he wanted those things, too. Growing up, he never had new anything.
I didn’t know he joined the Air Force instead of the Army because he heard African Americans could apply for jobs other than just infantry and cooks in the mess hall.
I didn’t know as a materials facilities supervisor he played major roles in dismantling top secret bases in Casablanca, Morocco and prepping for the Cuban missile crisis at another top-secret base in Massachusetts.
And I didn’t know that while moonlighting as the manager of the Officer’s Club in Liverpool, England, he auditioned and rejected the not-yet-famous boy band The Beatles.
With nearly 21-years in the Air Force, he retired as a Tech Sergeant, having been assigned to bases in Washington D.C., Morocco, France, Massachusetts, England, Maine, Germany, Washington, and Taiwan. His last tour of duty was to Langley Airforce Base, where the family finally settled in Hampton, VA.
After retiring from a Civil Service position at Langley, he spent his days gardening in his beautifully landscaped backyard, and spending time with family and friends.