A Bay Area ‘late bloomer’ has a purpose

Bob Williams walks slowly from his wagon to the training ground on a sunny day in March at the Menlo Country Club in Woodside. He carefully picks up his club and hits a few shots. He is mostly frustrated with the results, muttering like any golfer tortured by this maddening game.

Williams faces the same challenge as other recreational players – life is busy. He devotes most of his time to a variety of projects, including promoting sportsmanship in college athletics and speaking out at schools across the peninsula.

Another not so accidental detail to note: Williams is 100 years old.

He grew up in Sausalito, living nearly 16 before the Golden Gate Bridge opened in May 1937. Williams was in the front row of cars on the Marin County side of the bridge that day.

He attended the Naval Academy (future astronaut Alan Shepard was his roommate at one time), served in World War II, and had a successful career as an insurance executive. Then, in retirement, he became really active. Williams loves golf and still plays nine holes in Menlo almost every Sunday morning, a staggering feat when one has lived an entire century.

But he also enjoys writing, mentoring young people, lobbying colleges for sportsmanship, honoring fellow veterans, and supporting his alma mater. He has found new purpose in these pursuits over the past 20 plus years. And, probably not by chance, he went through his 80s and 90s, despite suffering from heart problems, before hitting the big round number last summer.

“I like the idea of ​​being a late bloomer,” Williams said.

golf club at Menlo Country Club, Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Woodside, Calif. Williams, 100, a centenarian, remains active and plays golf regularly.”/>

Bob Williams holds his golf club at Menlo Country Club, Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Woodside, Calif. Williams, 100, a centenarian, remains active and plays golf regularly.

Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle

Not surprisingly, he credits his longevity in large part to regular exercise. He used to run (and then walk) in the stands at Stanford Stadium. Williams hiked regularly, he said, until his mid-1990s. He did push-ups three times a week until his late 1970s.

Now, at 100, Williams’ voice is raspy and her mind is sharp. He wrote a four-page article on “How to Live to Be 100, A 9-Point Retirement Happiness Program,” along with small black-and-white photos showing him at different stages of his life. This serves as his guide when giving motivational speeches in schools.

Some of his suggestions are familiar: exercise, avoid life-threatening falls, and pursue passions. Williams also advocates the joy of writing, joining, and participating in organizations, and “the power and pleasure of recognizing others and expressing gratitude.”

As for golf, he initially shot better than his age (then 79) posting 77 at Sharon Heights in Menlo Park. He described himself as a casual player driven by the perpetual quest to improve. Williams used to take frequent lessons in London, where he once lived part of the year, and he joked about forgetting what he had learned before returning to the Bay Area.

But you’re never too old to believe that a breakthrough is on the horizon. Stanford women’s coach Anne Walker complimented Williams’ swing last year, a comment he thinks about every time he plays. Walker also introduced him to star Cardinal Rachel Heck, who won the NCAA championship last year; Williams hopes to welcome Heck to Menlo this spring or summer.

More than anything, Williams relishes the social element of golf. He and his playing partners joke about shooting Union Oil (76) or El Camino (101). They value camaraderie as much as a good shot.

“It’s just the togetherness that golf brings – it’s meaningful to me and my life,” Williams said. “It’s so nice to joke around with friends.”

Bob Williams at Menlo Country Club.  At 100, Williams still plays nine holes at Menlo almost every Sunday morning.

Bob Williams at Menlo Country Club. At 100, Williams still plays nine holes at Menlo almost every Sunday morning.

Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle

After his brief session on the lineup last month, Williams was asked if he still hits balls consistently. His response had nothing to do with being 100 or slowing down in the face of Father Time. Instead, he simply said, “I have too much else to do.”

Consider his recent appearance at Oak Knoll Elementary School in Menlo Park. The kindergarten class gave her an enthusiastic ovation, and then principal Alicia Payton-Miyazaki sent Williams an email praising her presentation – mostly on the nine-point happiness program – and telling her how emotional it was. students and teachers.

Its main project is to promote sportsmanship in college football. It started about 20 years ago, when Williams lamented how players from many teams often left the pitch abruptly after games, without acknowledging their fans.

Williams launched a persistent letter-writing campaign, trying to convince schools that their football players should linger on the field to win or lose. Salute the student section. Maybe sing the alma mater. This only happened occasionally in Williams’ experience, not routinely.

“It’s just a simple courtesy,” he said. “It goes a long way.”

He contacted Ted Robinson, then Stanford’s play-by-play radio broadcaster, and asked for advice. Cardinal teams coached by Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw eventually started staying on the field, until it became a habit.

Notre Dame proved a bigger challenge. Former head coach Charlie Weis started a tradition in 2006 of players gathering near the student section after games, raising their helmets and chanting “Notre Dame, Our Mother.”

But in 2013, according to Williams, the school’s athletic director sent a letter to students saying football players would only linger after Fighting Irish victories. A friend forwarded Williams a newspaper article about the decision.

Robinson, a Notre Dame alum, was skeptical of how his school would react to outside pressure, and Williams initially got nowhere with letters to the college president and athletic director. But he pushed on, found an ally in the student body president, and garnered support.

Notre Dame players ultimately voted overwhelmingly to reverse the policy, he said, and start staying on the field to recognize students again. It might seem like a small gesture, but it mattered to Williams.

“I’ve never met someone quite like Bob, with his longevity, energy and passion for taking on a project,” Robinson said. “That’s the problem with his sportsmanship – it gave him a cause.”

Williams also organized an initiative to honor veterans at high school and college football games across the country. Navy, in turn, honored him for his volunteer work at a campus banquet several years ago in Annapolis, Maryland.

He became emotional while telling the story, given his military background. Williams served on a Navy battleship during World War II, fending off attacks by suicide bombers.

“I find it hard to say,” he said, holding back tears, “but my fondest memory is serving my country in times of war.”

Williams lives in Menlo Park with his wife, Carol Mayer Marshall, who has had a distinguished career in politics and law (she has served in two presidential administrations). He doesn’t walk everywhere like he once did — he used to walk all the way to Palo Alto to meet Robinson for lunch — so he relies on friends to drive him.

It’s a small concession to 100 years on Earth, in the grand scheme. Friends like Robinson find inspiration in how Williams stays active. Robinson told the story of his grandfather, who was forced into retirement at 65 and then lamented waking up wondering what to do each day.

That’s exactly what Robinson hopes to avoid – and Williams comes up with a plan.

“I look at Bob,” Robinson said, “and I say, ‘This is who I want to be. I want to wake up every day with something meaningful to do.

Williams, with her 101st birthday just two months away on June 23, remains surprisingly optimistic. His despondency over a few ground shots on the range soon turned into tales of his time in the Navy and his more recent efforts to make an impact in college sports.

“I’m so happy to still be alive, and alive with most of my marbles,” he said. “What a gift. Every day is a joy, truly.

Ron Kroichick is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @ronkroichick

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