Although Nick B. Williams Jr. would carve out a distinguished career as an editor and foreign correspondent at the Los Angeles Times, he first had to overcome the "junior" at the end of his name.
He joined the newspaper in the late 1960s when his father, Nick B. Williams Sr., was editor of The Times, and a highly regarded one at that.
"When Nick junior was added to the staff, a number of people — cynics mainly — said, 'He's the editor's son. What the hell is he going to do?' Turns out, if they had waited 20 minutes, they would have found out he was a terrific editor and a terrific reporter," George Cotliar, a former managing editor of The Times, said Wednesday.
Williams, who was a Times foreign correspondent in Southeast Asia and the Middle East in the 1980s and 1990s, died Wednesday at a Gainesville, Texas, nursing home of complications fromAlzheimer's disease, said his daughter Nan. He was 75.
After starting out on the Metro copy desk at The Times, Williams became an editor on the national and foreign desks in the 1970s and 1980s.
"He was just a marvelous and popular editor," said Robert Gibson, the Times Foreign editor when Williams joined the department. "He was very valuable in his dealings with foreign correspondents, who felt that he had a sympathetic ear and handled their copy with 'respect.' "
After years on the Foreign desk, Williams "wanted his chance in the field," said Alvin Shuster, the former Times Foreign editor who gave it to him. "He was a first-class desk editor, and I knew he would be a first-class correspondent. Some said it was a gamble, including Nick, but it clearly was not."
Between 1985 and 1992 Williams reported on Asia while based in Bangkok and the Middle East from Nicosia, Cyprus. He once estimated he spent 60% of his time on the road.
"Whether he was covering the Gulf War or an uprising in the Philippines, his copy was terrific," Shuster said. "He knew exactly what foreign correspondents do and did it extremely well."
In a 1992 essay on his experiences in the field, Williams recounted "stop-frame scenes" that were etched in his memory. They included seeing "Shiite Muslim women in black chadors" outside an Iraqi prison "shrieking lamentations and hoping for word that their husbands and sons were alive inside the high walls. That was the best they could expect — that their men were imprisoned and not among the thousands of Shiite rebels shot down by Saddam Hussein's helicopter gunships as he re-established his hold on the country."
That same year, Williams asked to return to Los Angeles. He was 55 and told his family he was "way too old to be ducking bullets anymore." He later said his years abroad were the best of his life.
He rejoined the Foreign desk to edit the weekly World Report section and served as deputy editor of the editorial pages before retiring in 2002 after being diagnosed withAlzheimer's.
Nick Van Boddie Williams Jr. was born Feb. 12, 1937, in Santa Monica and grew up in Pasadena.
From what is now Claremont McKenna College, he earned a bachelor's degree in business and married artist Gerri Bauhaus in 1960. He worked at the San Diego Union and theChicago Sun-Timesbefore moving to Los Angeles in late 1966 to join The Times.
The correspondent also excelled at shopping, Shuster said: If asked "for a blue and white bowl to be purchased on his next visit to Vietnam, he would bring it back complete with a letter detailing the history of the bowl and why it cost 20 bucks."
Williams' father, who was editor of The Times from 1958 to 1971, died at 85 in 1992.
Williams is survived by his wife, Gerri, of Lake Kiowa, Texas; daughters Maggie Sykes of Lake Kiowa; and Nan Williams of Flat Top, Tenn.; two grandsons; and his sisters Sue Williams of Trinidad, Calif., and Ricky Davis of Arcata.
Services are pending.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun