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CAPT. John Alexander Williamson


WILLIAMSON, JOHN ALEXANDER, Birmingham businessman, patriot and philanthropist, passed away May 2, 2004 at the age of 86. Mr. Williamson exemplified the best of America both in wartime and in peacetime. As a Navy veteran of both World War II and the Korean conflict, Mr. Williamson was decorated for bravery and leadership. As a civilian he began his career as a Birmingham car salesman, and ultimately went on to form several companies that operated in most of the major countries in the world. A native of Birmingham, he graduated from Birmingham-Southern College in 1939 with a degree in Mathematics. Williamson became prominent in American automotive affairs mainly through his consulting and training activities, which were based on finding and filling customers' needs with high levels of professionalism and integrity. These activities led to the creation of several allied business firms, including John Williamson & Associates, later known as Williamson, Merrill, Taylor, & Darling. He also was Founder and Chairman of Key-Royal Automotive, whose mission was to increase professionalism in the automobile business and to increase success of automobile retailers. Key-Royal sought to attract bright young people into the retail automobile field, teach them the business, and help them to become independent dealers. Key-Royal grew to over 25 retail dealerships throughout the United States, and operated a training arm that worked with automobile manufacturers and dealers around the world. Mr. Williamson was also a founder of Birmingham-based CARS, Inc., which was an early pioneer in the integration of computers and technology in the automotive business. CARS eventually became DYATRON and later merged into SunGuard Data Systems, a specialty company in the operations of computers and computing systems with products utilized in the automobile, banking, personnel, brokerage and mortgage banking industries. John Williamson founded each of these firms and served each as perpetual advocate, board member and, from time-to-time, Chairman. In the U.S. Navy, Mr. Williamson served on cruisers, destroyers, subchasers, and destroyer escorts. He commanded a 173-foot subchaser in the Caribbean and a destroyer escort in the Pacific during World War II. As Executive Officer of the Destroyer Escort, USS England, he directed his ship in attacks that sank six Japanese submarines in twelve days; as a result, the ship was credited with materially impacting the course of the Pacific campaign and received the Presidential Unit Citation. Williamson also holds the Legion of Merit for Combat and the Silver Star Medal for Combat in the Pacific Area. While serving as an instructor in Anti-Submarine Warfare and Seamanship in the Subchaser Training Center in Miami, he developed a man overboard recovery procedure that was later named the "Williamson Turn." This procedure is currently used in the U.S. Navy as well as in other navies and merchants marine, is known to naval officers and sailors throughout the world, and is credited with saving countless lives at sea. Former Navy Captain Williamson received the National Freedom Foundation Award for his open address to Congress, "After 200 Years, A Citizen Speaks to Congress," published July 4, 1976. In 1999 he was presented the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service - the highest medal that can be bestowed on a civilian. Mr. Williamson is well known in the Defense Department establishment and has lectured military students on numerous occasions, including the War College. He served on the boards of numerous defense-related organizations, including the Destroyer Escort Commanding Officers' Association, National Defense University Foundation and the USS Alabama Battleship Foundation. As a civilian, Williamson was extremely active in religious and civic affairs. He served on the boards of numerous civic and charitable organizations, including the Boy Scouts of America, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Alabama, IMPACT Family Counseling, the King's Ranch, Rotary International District Leadership, Re-Entry Ministries, SAV-America Ministries, and Cornerstone Schools of Alabama. A prolific fundraiser, Williamson frequently chaired charitable events. He also was active in the KAIROS prison ministry, and regularly visited and encouraged those in prison.He also holds the Distinguished Alumni Award, received in 1979 from Birmingham-Southern College, his alma mater, and in 1990 was awarded the Honorary Doctorate of Laws degree from Birmingham-Southern. Mr. Williamson was married to the former Jean Cochran, his wife of fifty-two years who preceded him in death. They are survived by three children, Lex Williamson (Mary), Wendy Martin (Raymond) and Maggie Brooke (Will), and eleven grandchildren. Funeral services will be held at Covenant Presbyterian Church at 11:00 am on Wednesday, May 5, to be followed by a graveside service with military honors at Elmwood Cemetery. The family will receive visitors at the church one hour prior to the service. Services are under the direction of Ridout's Valley Chapel (879-3401) in Homewood. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that memorials be given to The Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Alabama or IMPACT Family Counseling. <>
Published in The Birmingham News from 5/4/2004 - 5/5/2004.