Civic Leader Walter B. Williams of HomeStreet Bank Dies at 85.
SEATTLE -- Walter B. Williams, long-time Seattle banker, attorney and former Washington state legislator, passed away yesterday. He was 85.
"My father leaves a legacy of integrity, service and leadership," said Williams' son Bruce W. Williams. Added civic leader Jim Ellis: "Walter Williams' life reads like an anatomy of citizenship. We are lucky he lived his stewardship years with us."
Williams was president and chairman of Continental Mortgage and Loan Company (now HomeStreet Bank) from 1963-1990, continuing on as chairman until the mid-1990s. He followed in the footsteps of his father, W. Walter Williams, who was the company's first employee in 1922.
Walter Williams' son, Bruce, is HomeStreet's current chairman and CEO; his daughter, Kathryn Williams, is a senior vice president and serves on the HomeStreet Bank board. His two other daughters, Marcia and Wendy Williams, serve on the HomeStreet, Inc. board, along with extended family members.
In the nearly 30 years that Williams was president of Continental, he led the company's expansion from a small Seattle real estate lender to a full-service community bank with branches in Western Washington, Oregon and Hawaii. In 1986, he started a subsidiary, Continental Savings Bank, rounding out the lender's financial services. He led Continental to be one of the first and largest users of FHA and Ginnie Mae loan programs for affordable housing, and played a major role in influencing Fannie Mae to delegate underwriting authority to approved lenders.
A Seattle native, Walter Williams graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1939 and the University of Washington in 1943.
A veteran of World War II, he served on the Pacific Islands of Bougainville, Guam and Iwo Jima as a Japanese Language Officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. While overseas, Williams used his skill with the Japanese language to encourage Japanese soldiers to surrender. When Williams was transferred to Japan, he carried letters from the Japanese POWs to their families. Out of that experience, he developed a lifelong friendship with one of the Japanese soldiers. Later, Williams became president and a long-time member of the Japan-American Society of Washington, where he worked to promote goodwill between the two nations.
After the war, Williams attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1948. He joined the firm of Bogle & Gates and became a partner, resigning in 1963 to join Continental.
Walter Williams served two years in the Washington State House of Representatives (1961-1963) and eight years in the State Senate (1963-1971). His interests were in strengthening local government and the Seattle Public Schools and in controlling the cost of state government.
Williams was instrumental in the passage of Forward Thrust in the 1960s, a major King County public works program with bond proposals spanning transportation, community, housing, water issues and other publicly financed capital improvements - including $118 million for the purchase, creation and improvement of county parks.
He served as president of the Seattle Mortgage Bankers Association, the Washington Mortgage Bankers Association and, like his father before him, the Mortgage Bankers Association of America. He also chaired the Washington Savings League. Williams received a Presidential appointment to serve on the board of directors of the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) in 1975-1976.
Williams was also president of several community organizations including the Rotary Club of Seattle, the Economic Development Council of Puget Sound, the Puget Sound Association of Phi Beta Kappa and the Downtown Seattle Association. As DSA president, Williams advocated for construction of the downtown transit tunnel and the Washington State Convention Center.
Williams also served on the boards of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the Seattle-King County Municipal League, The Evergreen State College Foundation and Medina Children's Services. He was a founding member of the Washington Roundtable.
One of Williams' great loves was Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo. In 1984, he was appointed by then Mayor Charles Royer to chair a 50-member Zoo Commission at a time when the Zoo was at a crossroads. The group examined the Zoo's long-range plan and recommended placing a King County Zoo bond issue on the ballot in 1985. Williams chaired the bond campaign, leading it to passage. He then chaired the Zoo Bond Oversight Committee for 10 years, serving as a key player in the Zoo's reconstruction into a world-class facility.
In 1992 the Zoo honored Williams, presenting him with the Woodland Park Zoological Society Medal for his many years of work and his contributions to the Zoo's goals of education, conservation, wildlife research and recreation. In 2002, HomeStreet Bank and Williams' four children made a $250,000 Capital Fund contribution to the Jaguar Exhibit in honor of himself and his wife, Marie Williams.
In 1997 Williams was honored as First Citizen, an annual award honoring a King County resident who has provided outstanding public service and leadership. Williams' father was named First Citizen in 1945.
Williams' wife of 60 years, Marie, passed away in September of this year. All four of their children - Kathryn Williams, Bruce Williams, Marcia Williams and Wendy Williams - reside in Seattle.
Donations in Walter Williams' memory may be made to Woodland Park Zoo.
About HomeStreet Bank
HomeStreet Bank, one of the region's largest privately owned banks, has assets of $2.38 billion and a network of 30 branches in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii. HomeStreet offers a full range of financial services - including business banking, business lending, consumer banking, mortgage lending, residential construction financing, income property financing, and insurance services. Each year, HomeStreet contributes two percent of its pre-tax profits to community organizations. While the extended Williams family owns the majority of HomeStreet stock, the Employee Stock Ownership Plan is the single largest shareholder. In 2006, the first fourth-generation member of the Williams family, Glory Beijar, joined the holding company board.
NOTE TO EDITOR: Two photos are available: (1) business headshot of Mr. Williams, and (2) photo taken in the 1980s at Woodland Park Zoo showing Mr. Williams with one of the elephants benefited by the Zoo bond.