Dad of two, father figure to hundreds

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Dad of two, father figure to hundredsBrian Williams’ positive outlook on getting through life might be summed up in what he calls his “Valley Metaphor.”

“We take a lot of walks, a lot of hikes, and when we do we have metaphorical talks along the way,” said Brian. “Here we are surrounded by all of these wonderful mountains, but we spend most of our time in the valleys in between.

“I think it’s important to have a way to measure and appreciate successes when you are in the valley — not just during the little time you spend at the peaks.”

Forgive me, reader, for front-loading this editorial note. In a community full of so many wonderful examples of outstanding fathers and mothers to spotlight, the challenge is never in finding a worthy subject, but in coercing him (or her) to tell us why he (or she) is worth celebrating. So I acknowledge up front that this report is influenced by my decades of observing Brian Williams serve as an outstanding role model not only to his own children, but to the countless others he has taught, coached, mentored or befriended.

An inextricable part of that story is his wife, Jennifer, who has been by his side for more than three decades and is likely the reason for the family’s fortunate arrival in our valley in the first place. But I get ahead of myself …

Brian Williams and Jennifer (nee) Staab met in junior high school, when both swam for a competitive league in Escondido. But the two didn’t really get acquainted until they were working as lifeguards the summer before their senior year — when the other lifeguards on duty indulgently watched this romance take root. He asked her to a movie. She said yes. Five years later, after they had finished their undergraduate degrees, they married.

Jennifer’s father, Gary, had moved his family to Ridgecrest in the 1980s when he accepted a job managing Drummond Medical Group. After the Williams finished their schooling, they found jobs here, as well.

Brian pointed to several influences on his and Jen’s parenting style: they both came from parents who modeled investment in their children, they taught and coached other peoples children for several years before starting their own families, and they even took a “Growing Kids God’s Way” course — possibly as the only participants without children of their own.

“I have always been a big believer in learning from the wisdom of people who have experienced things before you,” said Brian.

One of the foundational principles of GKGW they carried forward is the analogy of fathers and mothers as the backbones of a family.

“A brick wall is too rigid, and a jellyfish is too yielding,” said Jen. “But a backbone is supportive, yet flexible when necessary.”

“I remember us realizing how similar some of the things we learned in that program were to what we had already experienced in the classroom,” said Brian. “You’re not just raising a child, you are raising an eventual adult.”

Twenty-two years ago, the couple welcomed their son, Greg, into the world. Three years later, their daughter Grace joined them.

“I believed people when they said our lives would change when we had children,” said Brian. “However, the sheer magnitude of that shift is impossible to understand until it happens.”

Inside of their home (and in their classrooms) they invested in their children — and learned from them.

“Kids teach you a lot,” said Jen. “One thing we have discovered is how different people can be. They come out of the womb the way God engineered them. And being the backbone — sometimes you have to bend to accommodate that.”

For nearly 25 years, Brian taught fourth grade at Pierce Elementary School. He was wildly popular with students and parents (reportedly the most-requested teacher on campus).

His secret? “I don’t know. I just really like being able to find a way to make a student more successful. I think when kids actually have an opportunity to accomplish something, and are acknowledged for their achievement, that can be a really great motivator.”

Brian’s teaching style, from the perspective of an observer, was universally positive while being individually tailored enough to reach the varied personalities in his cohort.

Several years ago, he transferred to Mesquite High School. This change meant his students were not only older, but many were under the burden of credit recovery.

“I think both of us recognized early on how important it was to build a relationship with our students,” said Jen.

At Mesquite, Brian started each school day with physical education – which allows him to walk and talk with the kids.

“It was always interesting to see who wanted to walk next to me on any given day,” he said. “We would use that time to talk about our experiences, our goals, what we hope to get out of life. By the end of the year, I had a chance to do that with every student.”

“I think that hope is important,” said Jen. “I don’t know if kids can feel inspired without hope.”

They also both endeavor to teach their students that, whatever mistakes have been made in a given moment, hour or day, there is always a new opportunity to start over.

While Brian was serving as a father figure to a new batch of students each year, he and Jen continued to raise their own. Both Greg and Grace were honor students and competitive athletes (and still swimming in college).

Swimming is another allegorical metric by which the Williams family measure growth. “It’s interesting, because even though it’s a team sport, you are really competing against yourself,” said Brian.

“Whether you win or lose depends so much on the skill level of everyone else in the pool. In the end, your focus is always on improving your personal best.”

Outside of their home, school and sporting routines, the family also loves to travel — and have now visited almost every state in the nation.

“We decided early on to invest in experiences rather than possessions,” said Brian.

As Greg and Grace transition into independent adults, that coaching mentality becomes more important than ever, said Brian.

“Getting the kids through graduation and into college was a great feeling — watching them gain confidence and enjoy their success. But the challenges for us, as their parents, are really different now,” said Brian.

“I remember with my parents, they didn’t offer a lot of unsolicited advice after a certain point. But it’s like with coaching — you teach them, you can offer some pointers, but in the end it let them make their decisions.”

One unexpected twist for the family has been the impact of COVID-19 and associated restrictions.

Greg was supposed to graduate from York College of Pennsylvania with his degree in mechanical engineering. Unfortunately the culmination of his scholastic career didn’t have the celebratory finish he anticipated, but he is on track for finishing up this fall and already has employment lined up after.

“Gracie had to go through Plan A, B and I think we are on Plan C now,” he said. Instead of the CPA internship in California she hoped for, she found a job and a place to stay where she is going to school in North Carolina.

“I know there are lessons in all of this, and maybe the kids won’t even fully discover those until they are older,” said Brian.

“But we really believe that God will take any situation and work it for good.

“It was heartbreaking to see Greg come home his senior year of college. It was disappointing for Grace’s plans to fall through.

“But when you are down here on the ground, you just don’t have the same perspective that you can get from above. And you might not see, like God can, how to get to that next mountaintop.”

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Pictured: Brian Williams is flanked by his son Greg, daughter Grace and wife Jennifer during one of their backcountry adventures. — Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2020-06-19