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Richard T. Williams passed in peace on June 24th, at the age of 84, after a brave years-long battle against dementia, never losing his sense of love and humor. His positive spirit and graciousness continued through his final days. He always had a “thank you” for even the smallest tasks done on his behalf. Beloved husband of Bonnie Williams (ne Allison); proud father of Kathy Williams, Sandra Smith (Stephen), and Andrea Pettibone (John); and loving grandfather to David, Ashley, Payton, Reagan, Trevor, Alexa, and London, Richard recently celebrated his 64th anniversary with Bonnie, the love of his life, his most valued friend, and the core of his joy.
A self-made man, Richard was the first, not only in his family, but also in his town, to attend college. He paid for his education with ROTC and academic scholarships, supplemented by gifts from his neighbors and congregation. They were so proud of him, one of their own going to Penn State. From humble beginnings, his parents instilled in him the ethics of hard work and self-education as not only a way to improve, but to live. Graduating in 1959 with honors in Civil Engineering, he married Bonnie three days later. They headed to California with hope, but no job, and a total of $300 with all that they owned in the backseat of their Ford Coupe.
By June, Richard had a job with the CA State Land Division and was appointed Field Park Chief of CA’s only “Geodetic Survey Team” locating a buried, highly sought after 1500’s Spanish Land Monument on Strawberry Point, San Francisco. Shortly after, he and Bonnie moved to Eagle Lake, which was isolated in the CA Cascade Mountains. They used a rain barrel in a barnyard to bathe unless they could manage the 80-mile drive on logging trails for supplies and a hot shower. By 1960, Richard completed basic training at Fort Benning, GA to be assigned as a second lieutenant infantry officer to the 82nd Airborne Division in NC. Richard attended Army Intelligence School in Ft. Holabird, MD specializing in imagery interpretation and was assigned to the US Army Photo Intelligence Center in WDC area. Temporarily assigned to cover aerial photography over Cuba, he was part of the team that identified the first evidence of Soviet action in the region that eventually led to the Cuban Missile Crisis. After an extended tour of duty, Richard was tired of being away from his wife and two young children. He returned to his love of science and engineering, accepting a job as Test Project Engineer for specialized work in nuclear and weapons testing for Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, in Livermore, CA. As an R&D Engineer group leader, he and his team focused on developing airborne nuclear debris sampling systems. These were some of his proudest accomplishments at such a young age, and in his last years he returned in his memories to these exciting times.
In the following years, he worked as a Managing Consultant with RayChem Corp., providing well for his family and purchasing his first, beloved Mercedes sedan. However, he continued to envision himself as his own man, establishing his own company and doing something innovative, impactful, and memorable. Warned by more than a few to not leave the surety of his lucrative career, particularly when he needed to provide for his what was now three young daughters and his wife. However, Richard remained unfazed and continued his pursuit of developing a start-up in the relatively unknown field of water purification.
His vision, based on scientific theories learned from his years of working in R&D, was to create an innovative product to improve drinking water quality. His belief in the need for water purification stemmed from growing up in the rural mountains of Western PA. Without running water, the family collected and drank fresh water from nearby springs. It was cold, clear, and pure, devoid of the chlorine taste Richard detested in most public water supplies. Devoted to his plan, for the first three years, Richard put every dollar made back into the company. He took no salary. The family lived simply. Failure was not ever considered. Richard was surrounded by his wife and daughters and began what became his greatest professional success.
Till the End…
General Ecology, Inc was founded in 1973 with the purpose of designing and manufacturing state of the art point-of-use drinking water purification systems that grew to supply the Residential, Commercial, Leisure, and Aviation industries world-wide. Richard was proud of the fact that Seagull ® IV water purifiers were made in the USA with representation in more than 40 countries. Many of Richard’s closest friends were engineers and innovators from England, Germany, Japan, and Malaysia. The family was fortunate to have some of the most famous chefs of Japan cooking in their home. Furthermore, Seagull® IV purifier was considered by the elite culinary institute of Japan to be an essential tool for the creation of top cuisine and featured on the popular cooking show, Iron Chef.
In the 80’s, already well established world-wide, the boom of the outdoor market further increased General Ecology’s growth with First Need® Deluxe leading the portable water purification industry. The development of the Aviation market in the 90’s and early 2000’s followed, increasing the growth and scope of General Ecology’s impact in the water purification industry across multiple sectors.
Richard developed a process of chemical free water purification known as “Structured Matrix” technology that combines advanced three-stage purification and techniques not available from any other product. This proprietary technology is independently certified to the EPA Microbiological Standard for Drinking Water Purifiers and meets the World Health Organizations rigorous standards for pathogenic cysts, bacteria, and viruses. General Ecology purification technology became the industry’s standard for excellence against which all others are measured.
A continual inventor, Richard never rested. He continued to be ahead of the curve in innovation, self-designing with his team of engineers, creating automated processes and adaptions to purchased equipment in order to perfect the manufacturing process for his proprietary products. Along the way he developed multiple patents, not only for his products, but also for the production process. Richard designed till the end. He always lamented that he didn’t have enough time in life to bring all his ideas to fruition.
Full Circle to Family.
While General Ecology, Inc. fueled his passion for innovation and his need to succeed, his energy throughout his life stemmed from his family. Even during his toughest hours in his battle against dementia, he never forgot his love for his wife and his family, asking for Bonnie nearly every moment and seeking assurance that she was in good health and cared for when not with him. His happiest moments till the end were having her by his side. Continually he asked to see his parents to thank them again for being such good people and he always had a smile, a blown kiss, and a “thank you for coming” to his children and grandchildren.
Richard instilled in his children the importance of family and a respect for God and country, as well as a duty to work hard and recognize the advantages given to them. Most importantly, he taught them to achieve their goals on their own merit. His legacy continues in his grandchildren. Not a dad to let his children linger in pajamas, he instilled the belief that time was to be used wisely and not wasted. Even his hobbies had purpose: yard work to build rock walls for landscape design; self-developed photography for family memories; wood working to create furniture to be used in the home; refurbishing and designing his own speakers and turn tables for optimal sound quality for his massive vinyl collection; to even using science to chart courses by compass and stars when sailing. Each daughter knew how to run the lawn mower by age 11. Each grandchild took at least one turn on the “big red tractor” and rode in the Ford pickup truck, most before they could even walk. And each son-in-law on his first Christmas received a gift of work boots that were expected to be broken in the next Spring.
Richard also believed in giving back, donating privately to charities from hospitals to scholarship funds, his favorite being the Special Olympics. He always admired these athletes, particularly the dedication and hard work required for them to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. In the past few years, his wife Bonnie established a scholarship in his name at Penn State University for first-generation students majoring in Civil Engineering as well as an endowment to Paoli Hospital Foundation for assistance to those that suffer from dementia or delirium while admitted to the Hospital. Recently, Bonnie and Richard also donated funds to studies of short-term dementia at the Penn Med Memory center. The Center also trains caregivers to better serve patients with dementia and other memory issues. In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations be directed to this facility in his name. http://pennmemorycenter.org/gifts
While his family will miss Richard every day, there is comfort in remembering him when we see a sailboat, overcome obstacles, or recall something he taught us about believing in ourselves to achieve our dreams. “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) Oh, what a trail you left. We remember. We love. We live. Rest Easy Richard T. Williams, we’ve got this.
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