BERLIN– The town’s transformation into a successful destination community is detailed in a new book written by former mayor Gee Williams.
Williams, well known for the years he spent as a councilman and then mayor of Berlin, will release “Turn Your Town Around,” a book that recounts Berlin’s revitalization, on Saturday. The public is invited to The Greyhound from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to purchase the book and speak with Williams, who will be signing copies.
“It’s a story that needed to be documented but also shared,” Williams said. “This is real people talking about real experiences from different perspectives.”
Williams, who grew up in Berlin and graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 1966, spent decades as a local journalist. From there he moved on to public relations and eventually public service, getting elected to the Berlin Town Council in 2003. Williams went on to serve as mayor from 2008 to 2020.
He’d long considered the idea of writing a book and with more time on his hands in recent years began to truly explore the idea. He quickly noticed that while there were local history books, they didn’t include anything substantive on the town’s relatively recent revitalization. With his front row seat to the changes, first as a reporter and later as an elected official, Williams realized he had insight into its evolution.
“In my view, revitalization got going in the 1970s, got into high gear in the ‘80s, and has continued,” he said. “It has not stopped nor should it.”
For “Turn Your Town Around,” Williams decided to interview the people that played a part in the town’s renaissance.
“I had a list of 50 names to start,” he said. “I pared it down to 35. Once I started the interviews it just started to fall into place.”
He spoke to property owners like J.E. Parker, local history experts like Carol Rose, merchants like Robin Tomaselli and town staff like Dave Engelhart and Ivy Wells. They touch on topics ranging from architecture to art and describe how they’ve seen the town change.
“I learned a lot along the way,” Williams said.
In the 13-chapter book, he combines their observations with historical details, such as information on the Renaissance Plaza project and restoration of the Atlantic Hotel, to provide readers with examples of how small towns can transition into destination communities. Ideally, he wants the book to provide encouragement to other towns that may be struggling but to also serve as inspiration for the people of Berlin.
“I hope this gives current and future residents of our town the encouragement and inspiration to continue down this path,” he said. “I don’t think revitalization has a definite end. As the book relates, you can adapt to the times but you don’t lose sight of what your basic values are as a destination community.”
Williams said he enjoyed the experience of writing his first book and that while only a handful of people have read it so far, he’s been pleased with their responses.
“I also want to do some paid speaking engagements, not just to promote the book but the idea behind it,” he said. “Revitalization is possible.”
“Turn Your Town Around” will be available starting Saturday at The Greyhound, where Williams will be signing copies from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The book is also available online at turnyourtownaround.net.