Excelsior’s Bob Williams Shares Stories and Wisdom

Excelsior’s Bob Williams has spent most of his 92 years serving and preserving the city he loves.
Photo of Bob Williams taken in front of the old depot in Excelsior, 2004.

Last September, Excelsior’s Bob Williams received a Distinguished Service Award from the Minnetonka Alumni Association. “It was really very nice,” he says fondly. “It was really fun.” Williams exudes modesty, but his friends and family can’t say enough wonderful things about him. And when talking with Williams, you start to see how many different—and inspiring—forms his community dedication has taken over the past decades.

“He has one of the most positive and uplifting attitudes of anyone I have ever met,” says former Excelsior mayor Nick Ruehl. “I know he is one of Excelsior’s greatest cheerleaders.”

Williams has lived in Excelsior since 1929, arriving when he was 8 years old. He’s considered the community’s unofficial historian, with a wealth of knowledge about the town’s past. “Bob’s gifts of writing, composing, speaking and storytelling are evident in every aspect of his life,” says Ruehl.

And “storytelling” is the perfect word (if we had to choose just one) to sum up Bob Williams, from his work as the public relations director for the Old Log Theater to his tenure as managing editor for two local newspapers, Minnetonka Record and Deephaven Post.

As recently as last summer, Williams, who turned 92 in December, led historical walking tours through downtown Excelsior, pointing out important buildings and landmarks, and telling tales about his own childhood in town. “I grew up in the midst of the Depression,” says Williams, “but I can remember all kinds of stories about those years, and growing up. I cherish that time. I cherish all the things that happened to me.”

After graduating from Excelsior High School in 1939, Williams joined the Army Air Corps (now the Air Force) in 1942 and served as a flying officer during World War II. He didn’t have any expectations about going to college—his family didn’t have much money—but was able to attend the University of Minnesota thanks to the G.I. Bill, which funded education for veterans. “I always wanted to write,” he remembers. “So journalism school was a good place for me.”

He went on to edit the Minnetonka Record and the Deephaven Post, jobs he saw as a public service. “Our main objective was always to do what we could for our own community,” says Williams. During his tenure, the Minnetonka Record supported major initiatives in Excelsior, from house-to-house mail delivery to parking meters along Lake Street, which helped with the upkeep of beaches and parks.

The stories of Williams’ life could fill many books—and indeed, they have. His novel, Good Luck on Your Downward Journey, is partly autobiographical, based on stories of his own youth in Excelsior. “It’s a story of the influence of the Depression on families,” he explains. “It was tough times, but there was a certain amount of humor.” Williams has written three other historical novels, all of which help preserve his memories of Excelsior, the town he loves so much.

But aside from his publications and his accolades, those close to Williams admire him for his warm wisdom. “I just feel really lucky to have had him for a dad,” says his son, Bob Williams Jr., who nominated his father for the Distinguished Service Award. “He’s just a wonderful man. I only hope I can be like him.”

Williams and his wife, Patty, who both grew up in Excelsior, will celebrate their 67th anniversary this year, and they’ve lived in the same house for 59 years. “I think we’re in a rut,” he says with a wink. Though he’s had to slow down just a little, Williams keeps busy at Trinity Episcopal Church and with the Rotary Club of Excelsior. In fact, in his 52 years as a Rotary member, Williams has never, not once, missed a meeting.

“One of the things that Dad passed on to us was, whatever it is you’re doing, do your best at it,” says Bob Williams Jr. of Seattle. “He sets the bar pretty high.”

What does he love most about his community? He reflects quietly for a moment. “I always remember a quote from a former minister in Excelsior,” he says. “He moved a lot, and when he retired he came back to Excelsior, because, he said, it was the closest place to heaven on Earth.” Williams smiles. “Which pretty much says it all about this marvelous town.”