In this month’s issue of this magazine, you will find a summary of the growth our city has realized under the leadership of Mayor Jeff Williams whose term in office has concluded with the passing of the gavel to our new mayor Jim Ross.
To help put all that in perspective, let’s look at a little history of the setting where those successes have unfolded.
It has been a privilege to work with Jeff for more than 30 years in his capacity as a professional civil engineer working on some of the city’s major developments, ranging from the River Legacy Living Science Center to the Ballpark in Arlington and then AT&T Stadium.
Along the way to those high-profile projects, he helped with the city’s comprehensive planning efforts and advanced the work of public education through his chairmanship of citizen commissions on behalf of the Arlington Independent School District.
In his leadership role with the First Baptist Church, he helped form the three-way partnership with the church, the city, and the University of Texas at Arlington to develop the expansive College Park Center Arena and surrounding amenities.
There was never a time when he turned down any request to participate and coordinate the work of non-profit and community service organizations. He was, indeed, the quintessential go-to guy when any endeavor needed a strong leader to achieve desired outcomes for the benefit of his fellow citizens.
All those results occurred before Jeff became Arlington’s mayor. I anticipated the time would come when he would emerge into an elective office and share his leadership talents to raise Arlington’s accomplishments to an even higher level.
During his campaign, I shared the fact that no previous candidate for mayor had been more qualified to take on the challenges that office always places on its principal elected official. With his wife Karen always by his side, he won that race in a landslide as the mantle of public trust was placed on his shoulders. It fit him perfectly.
Six years ago, our city stood at one of those turning points that would shape its future. Arlington’s prominence as a major league city was in doubt, the long hoped-for development in the entertainment district, the city’s largest economy, had not materialized and there was talk of our reputation as the can-do city having had run its course.
In his campaign, Jeff explained how a vibrant visitor and tourism business would make it possible to strengthen Arlington’s neighborhoods and for all its citizens to achieve a higher quality of life in all the ways local government works to support them day in and day out.
A year later, for the fourth time in our history, voters overwhelmingly approved the construction of a professional sporting edifice that set into motion all that has followed, including expansive development in the entertainment district that will include the National Medal of Honor Museum.
I’ve often reflected on something Tom Vandergriff said when he stepped down 44 years ago after more than two decades in the office he made famous. In his humble persona that characterized his gift of public service, he concluded with the refrain, “Perhaps we have just set the table.”
There’s a message in that statement that goes beyond those words that provided a challenge for mayors in years to come. He was saying there are more mountains to climb for a city, at the time, of less than 150,000 people, and future leaders should chart the course for ever more achievements.
That table has been enlarged time and again – the latest extension so ably constructed through Jeff’s leadership and now big enough to seat 400,000 residents of widely diverse backgrounds.
While Jeff no longer occupies the mayor’s office at city hall, we can be assured that his and Karen’s love for our city will always result in a continued role of helping to assure that our city’s best days are the ones that lie ahead.