BERLIN – Town officials this week thanked Gee Williams for his dedication and commitment to Berlin during 12 years as mayor.
After being sworn in Tuesday, new Mayor Zack Tyndall presented Williams, who served first as a councilmember and then as mayor, with a proclamation recognizing his years of service to the town. Tyndall credited Williams with helping Berlin earn its 2014 title as America’s Coolest Small Town and with promoting the town’s “19th century charm and 21st century living.”
“Thank you,” Tyndall said. “It’s been an honor to serve underneath you as a councilmember. I’ve learned a lot.”
Tyndall worked with Anchor Wood Creations to present Williams with a shadowbox—built with wood salvaged from a walnut tree that went down on Burley Street—containing the gavel and sound block Williams used during his tenure as mayor.
“I think he should have something to remember his work here,” Tyndall said.
Town staff also thanked Williams for his guidance and leadership. Planning Director Dave Engelhart said he had nothing but respect for Williams and had always appreciated the fact that Williams never told him what to think but rather asked him what he thought.
“We’ll miss your wisdom and your guidance and your leadership,” he said.
Ivy Wells, the town’s economic and community development director, said her most treasured memory of Williams was when he’d donned his top hat and agreed to take part in a flash mob in Berlin.
“I remember thinking we have the coolest mayor of all time,” she said. “I still echo that. I respect everything that you’ve done. I am actually in awe of what you have done for this town. When I came here six years ago Berlin was the talk of the state. Whenever Berlin gets mentioned they always say ‘do you still have that awesome Mayor Gee’ and I say yes he’s still here. Now I’ll report our new Mayor Zack will take over. I’ll never forget you and hope we can enjoy a beer sometime.”
Police Chief Arnold Downing joked that in spite of his peers’ comments about missing Williams, he’d still be in Berlin.
“You have more to offer it’s just going to be in a different capacity,” he said.
Downing, who in more than 29 years in Berlin has served under seven mayors, said he’d enjoyed his time working with Williams.
“I think I’m blessed to have the opportunity to sit in your office many times and to go ahead and really pull in the many things you’ve taught me about Berlin, taught me about ourselves and what we are inspired to be,” Downing said.
He added that Williams had left a mark on Berlin.
“We can definitely say you have built a legacy,” Downing said. “When we go ahead and look at the buildings your name is going to be upon them. You’re not going to be forgotten.”
Elroy Brittingham, who served 32 years on the town council before stepping down this month, recalled seeing Williams at council meetings as a reporter when he’d first been elected.
“Gee started with the newspaper when I came on the council,” Brittingham said. “Then he turned around and ran for council. Then I served under him as the mayor. We’ve been together a long time but I enjoyed every bit of it. I learned a lot from Gee I hope he learned something from me.”
Williams said he wished Tyndall and the new councilmembers the best and said he was grateful to have had the opportunity to serve the town.
“Being mayor was never on my to do list,” he said. “I never thought I’d be doing that, never knew I’d go from one side of the room to the other, but it’s been a very rewarding experience and I have so much optimism about the future of this town.”
Williams served as mayor from 2008 to 2020. He believes some of the town’s biggest accomplishments during his tenure included the electric utility overhaul that resulted in dramatic rate reductions and the creation of the town’s economic and community development department.
“The direct impact has been to establish and organize numerous successful town events,” Williams said. “This innovative department has been very effective in revitalizing Berlin’s businesses, plus opening and operating the Berlin Welcome Center on Main Street. Ultimately, this department plays a major role in the unprecedented economic prosperity of our town.”
Williams believes other highlights for the town in the last decade included the construction of a new state-of-the-art police station and the establishment of the town’s stormwater utility to help reduce flooding.
“The continuing expansion of this effort has the potential to have one of the most far-reaching impacts on improving the quality of life for our town’s citizens and property owners,” he said.
And while it remains controversial, Williams considers the purchase of Heron Park an accomplishment for the town.
“This is a multi-year project that can have major economic and environmental benefits to our town,” he said. “It is now in the hands of the elected leaders of Berlin to transform this large property that was for decades an albatross for our community into a permanent asset for generations to come.”