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Joe Williams joined the company in St. Thomas 36 years ago

By Hilary Reeves

Joe sits at the bottom of a set of stairs leading to a container crane in a shipyardJoe Williams grew up on Anguilla, a 35-square-mile Caribbean island nation where community and island living go hand-in-hand.

Williams’ mother, a housekeeper, and stepfather, a maintenance worker, left the island when he was young, traveling to the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Thomas in search of better job opportunities in order to support the family. Williams and three of his siblings were raised by their grandmother.

“My upbringing was rough at times, but I persevered,” he said. “Not only did I have my grandmother, but the entire village looked out for each others’ kids – love, care, morals, and family living came from all who were around.”

Life on the island was comfortable, and at times challenging, but Williams made due with what little he had. He remembers going to school without shoes. His daily chores included bringing in water, collecting chopped wood, tending to animals of all kinds, and completing his homework. He attended Sunday School regularly, was a Boy Scout, and was involved in his primary school’s sporting activities, including track and field, football [soccer], and cricket. He was left with just enough time to personally care for his pet rabbits and pigeons.

In December of 1978, at the age of 16, Williams decided to leave Anguilla and move to St. Thomas so that he could both finish school and more easily find work. By the following July, he landed a job at Tropical Shipping. He started off working in the warehouse as a cargo inspector, receiving and unloading cargo. In September of 1979, he enrolled in school, and then was working during the day and taking classes at night. After a couple of years in the warehouse, he transferred to the Operations Department, became a shipside checker, and learned to operate several pieces of heavy equipment.

Joe Williams 6After several years in operations, Williams decided to try for an office job. He landed the ship agent position that was available, and was put in charge of overseeing all vessel and departure entries and departures, the handling of vessel crews’ customs and immigration documents, and cargo manifests. During this stint, Williams wanted to do even more than decided to seek further advancement within the department. He qualified for the Traffic Department Coordinator position, and supervised four employees for more than a year.

While steadily advancing through the ranks at Tropical, Williams would often visit the nearby airport on weekends. He landed a part-time job with an Anguilla airline, and become fascinated with planes. He decided to pursue a career as a pilot.

After several lessons, Williams received his solo certificate. Filled with passion and the desire to excel, he discussed the possibility of moving to Florida to further his flying abilities with his parents and wife. After 10 years at Tropical in St. Thomas, he requested a transfer to the Port of Palm Beach. He moved to Florida in August of 1989, leaving his family behind in the Caribbean.

In West Palm Beach, Williams worked in the Traffic Documentation Department, while also taking flying lessons at the West Palm Beach Airport. But within months of his move, Hurricane Hugo decimated the Caribbean, and Williams was forced to bring his family to the States.Joe Williams rests one leg up on a pallet with a container crane in the background

After months of trying to juggle both work and his flying lessons, Williams put his passion on hold to focus on his family, working extra hours and additional part-time jobs to make sure they were comfortable.

A series of unfortunate personal issues led to Williams leaving Tropical in 1992, only to return to the company’s Miami warehouse in 1993. During his five years in Miami, he held several positions, including warehouse supervisor. He eventually transferred back to West Palm Beach to be closer to his family. In order to make the transfer a reality, he took a pay cut and joined the Stevedoring Department at the entry-level position of  jockey driver, eventually working his way back up – again – to the position of crane operator.

After 36 years in the shipping industry, Williams still has several years before retirement and is making the most of his time – on and off the job. He said he is especially passionate about giving back to organizations, both in Florida, and in his native Anguilla.

Conversations with his childhood friend Kate Rogers led them to independently begin collecting school supplies for school children living on the island, and contacting other friends and classmates there, hoping they would do the same. The program took off.

The Kool FM’s Children Day 2015 event took place in August on Anguilla, and was co-sponsored by Tropical. More than 300 children participated in workshops of drug awareness and healthy eating, played games, and were given back-to-school gifts and supplies.

“Our goal was to entertain 300 kids, and we ended up going a little over that amount, which was very good,” Williams said. “The Sunset Homes event which occurred later in the month entertained a little more than 150 kids and also included school supplies gifts. I’m very happy to be part of organizations that sponsor such events.”

Joe sits in the helm of a container crane, smiling and ready to operateWhen asked about his Tropical employment, he shared that the company had been very good to him.

“I have achieved and accomplished a lot in the industry, and it is a great company to work for. I’m looking forward to continuing to learn and do whatever I can for the years that I have left.”

Although unsure of what retirement holds, Williams, who has 12 siblings and six children of his own, hopes to continue to give back wherever he can.

“School supplies are not the major need, but it’s a start,” he explained. “Its about furthering the education of the kids in Anguilla and the world. I  would love to eventually sponsor a child through their years of high school, have a scholarship fund, or assist them in their college expenses.”

For now, Williams is buoyed by the support of his company and some of his co-workers.

“There people out there who care, and people who needs assistance, and as much as I can help, I will.”