Citizen of the West is honored for his business sense and philanthropy
THE LAST PERSON TO SING Ron Williams’ praises is Ron Williams himself. He’ll down-play his business acumen and gloss over his ability to raise millions of dollars for causes in which he believes. Yet his voice cracks with emotion when asked how it feels to be the 43rd Citizen of the West, an honor he’ll accept on Jan. 10 at a dinner benefiting the National Western Scholarship Trust. “This is one of the great honors of my life,” Williams says. “I really wasn’t expecting it, so I was both excited and appreciative.”
Fortunately, his friends aren’t shy about heaping on the praise. They’ll tell how he co-chaired a $250 million campaign to build the new Children’s Hospital Colorado on the Anschutz Medical Campus; how he helped revitalize the Denver Public Schools Foundation by serving 10 years on its board and raising $10 million for its programs; or how he chaired the National Western Stock Show board and helped launch its $100 million Honor the Legacy campaign with a $10 million gift.
In appreciation of that gift, the Stock Show honored him by granting in-perpetuity naming to one of its key areas. The 20-acre Cille and Ron Williams Yards will be a year-round venue for concerts, festivals, large equipment trade shows, sporting events and drive-in movies. The yards will have removable pens for livestock shows and can be transformed into a parking lot when need be.
Don Elliman, chancellor of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, says: “Ron honestly believes he is not that special– and he’s dead wrong. Ron is a rock. Salt of the earth. He has the finest set of values I’ve ever known. He’s an incredibly caring and thoughtful person and does it all without air or any sense of self-promotion.”
Paul Andrews, president and chief executive officer of the National Western Stock Show, adds: “Ron’s reputation as one of Denver’s premiere business leaders is second to none. He has the unique quality of being able to listen to differing opinions and know just how to get things done, even if the right decision isn’t his decision. He is absolutely one of the most influential board members in the history of the Stock Show.”
Retired CU President Bruce Benson, who with his wife, Marcy, shared 2020 Citizen of the West honors, concurs. “Marcy and I believe that Ron Williams is one of the finest people in Denver. He is extremely smart and talented, yet always so humble. His contribu- tions to Denver and Colorado are legendary. No one has been able to get him to agree to be honored until now, and it is about time.”
How do people describe you?
As a good citizen.
What one word do you feel best describes Coloradans?
How would you like to be remembered?
As a good citizen.
Who do you most admire, and why?
My wife, Cille, because she’s an unusually strong wife and mother.
What was the last great book that you read?
Grant, by Ron Chernow.
What’s your favorite Colorado restaurant?
The National Western Club on the Stock Show grounds. Especially the beef tenderloin that is served there.
Describe your fashion style.
I’m most comfortable in jeans and boots.
What are your hobbies?
I’m really not a hobby person, but I have many interests. I like to fish, play golf and spend time at the ranch.
What type of fishing do you like most?
Catch-and-release fly fishing.
What is your best fish story?
The big ones! I’ve caught a rainbow trout that weighed about 15 pounds and, in the Florida Keys, I caught an 18-pound tarpon.
What inspired you and Cille to become involved with the National Western?
I grew up in a very small, rural town and spent much of my youth on farms, so agriculture always has been something very close to my heart. You could say (everything that the Stock Show offers) is in my blood. I’ve hardly missed one since I moved to Denver.
What is your favorite part of Stock Show?
I like all of it, the whole enterprise.
What kind of future do you see for the Western way of life?
The Western way of life has suffered from development and the overall economics of business, but I’m seeing a tremendous effort being made toward making agriculture more sustainable. People are coming to realize how important agriculture is to our state and our society in general.
How can we inspire young people to become interested in agriculture, ranching or farming?
I think we’re doing that through educational programs that colleges in Colorado, Wyo- ming and surrounding states are offering. Education is key.
Besides the National Western, what other nonprofit organizations do you support?
Children’s Hospital, the Denver Public Schools Foundation … we do a lot of giving, so it’s hard to name just a few.
What is it like for you and Cille to walk through the stockyards and see the signage for the Cille and Ron Williams Yards?
It’s tough for me to talk about what it means. I feel a little … not overwhelmed, exactly … just appreciative of the recognition. It inspires me to do more.
Marital status: Married to Cille since 1990
Children: Two boys, one girl and seven grandchildren Career: Retired president and chief executive officer, Gary-Williams Energy Corp.
Hometown: A small town in Nebraska
Where do you call home today? Denver, since 1977
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Nebraska-Kearney; master’s degree in business management from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Joanne Davidson is a frequent contributor to Colorado Expression.