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United Methodist changes careers to focus on parenting

 


United Methodist changes careers to focus on parenting

Sept. 3, 2004

A UMNS Feature
By Amy Green*

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Jim Williams
Jim Williams was devastated when a drunk driver killed his 19-year-old son, but that’s not what changed his life. His daughter was 16 then, and their relationship was deteriorating fast.

"What really changed me for the better was not the death of Curt as much as it was, in my eyes ... really the rebirth of Beth in my life," says Williams, 56, a member of Brentwood United Methodist Church in a suburb of Nashville, Tenn. "I realized that if I lost Beth emotionally, socially and spiritually, that would be more painful than losing Curt physically."

Determined not to lose two children, Williams left behind a career in finance and sales and focused on being a better parent. He now speaks nationally on parenting in schools, churches, jails and drug rehabilitation centers, and he penned a book, Parenting on Point, published by Abingdon Press in 2002. Abingdon released his curriculum for counselors and Sunday school teachers, Parenting 101, on DVD last spring.

Most important, he reconnected with Beth.

"He’s just amazing to watch," says Beth Martin, now 25, married and working for Turner Sports in Atlanta. "He gets so much gratification from what he does. As a daughter, that’s just really nice to see.  He’s now in a position to go out and help other people and inspire."

Williams smiles as he recalls the last time he saw his son, a sophomore at United Methodist-related Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Ala. The teen, who had struggled to fit in while in high school, had been named captain of his tennis team and was juggling two girlfriends. He was planning a business career.

Curt was killed in November 1995. Williams had argued with Beth that night, and when the family learned of Curt’s accident, Beth could not be found. Williams’ wife, Carol, drove ahead to the college, while Williams located Beth and followed with his daughter and the family’s minister. Williams did not speak with his daughter the entire trip.

Six months later, Williams lost his job at Alcoa, where he had worked for 23 years. At about the same time, he was asked to speak on parenting at a Nashville high school - a request that stemmed from his volunteer work with Students Taking a Right Stand, a nonprofit group that discourages drugs, alcohol and violence among youth. Despairing over the loss of his son and his job and his ailing relationship with his daughter, Williams reluctantly agreed.

When he sat down to prepare the speech, he felt something "like a warm blanket on a cold winter day. ... I knew it was the Holy Spirit coming into my life," he remembers. "My world has changed ever since."

Williams got more involved in the organization and began speaking in schools, rehabilitation centers and jails. He drew on his experience with Beth and what he learned from parenting and motivational authors such as Stephen R. Covey of the top-selling The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. After attending one of Williams’ Sunday school classes, an Abingdon Press editor asked him to write a book of his own.

Williams says he clashed with his strong-willed daughter because he refused to try to see her point of view.

"She didn’t have a father," he laments. "She had a father who would see the world through his eyes."

Mixing honesty with humor, Williams developed an approach to parenting rooted in his business experience - he urges families to develop mission statements. The exercise forces families to examine priorities such as the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule while getting a sense of what’s important to the kids, he says. Families find the common ground and guidance they need to get through tough times.

Williams knew he had reconnected with his daughter when she was a student at the University of Tennessee, and she called home one night asking for boyfriend advice from her mom, who was out of town. Williams talked with her instead, and at the end of the conversation, Beth said something that made him cry when he hung up: "I’ve got to go. Thanks, Daddy."

"I couldn’t remember the last time she said, ‘Daddy,"" Williams remembers.

Williams plans to continue speaking but wants to shift his focus from addressing parents and kids to teachers, guidance counselors and church leaders who can spread his approach to a broader audience.

He also has begun speaking with Blake McMeans, 27, who nearly died when he flipped his car while driving drunk. McMeans excelled at tennis in college, like Curt, and Williams knew of him through the sport but never met him until the two turned up to speak together about drunk driving at a recent Vanderbilt University event in Nashville.

Later, the two gave speeches together at nearby Belmont University that garnered standing ovations. They are considering touring together.

"Jim has been great for me. He has really changed my life," says McMeans, who spent nine years in rehabilitation learning to walk again. "He came along at a time when I was trying to make it big with speaking, and I think we’re on the road to doing that. Without him, I would never have gotten this far."

*Green is a freelance journalist based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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