As with all endeavors, very little happens without the unselfish support of friends and family. Unfortunately, as the year progress not all of our friends and family remain with us. Recently we lost a dear friend and mentor, Robert (Bob) Williams, of Windsor Canada. Rest in peace Robert, you will be missed.
Bob assembling his streamliner
Thirty years ago when Bob Williams was in a motorcycle crash that left him paralyzed from the waist down, it didn’t quell his love for speed and motorcycles.
From a wheelchair, Williams started to build unique bikes including a 18-foot Bonneville streamliner which started out as an auxiliary fuel tank from an F4 Phantom fighter jet and was raced at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. His passion for bikes and the streamliner in particular along with his contributions to the motorcycle community landed him in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2007.
“Building bikes really helped to build his confidence,” said his son, Chris. “And it turned out he had a great understand and knowledge about bikes which helped. He could see people at an equal and that gave him the confidence to continue on. It was always something that he went back to.”
He also built a 750 cc Honda motorcycle that he mounted a side car onto and then moved the handlebars over to the side car. He could drive the whole bike with no one on it from the sidecar. It might not have been street legal, but it let him continue his passion on the road.
On Feb. 1, after battling an infection, Williams died at 74 years of age leaving his wife Jean, sons Chris and Jeff and daughter April. He also had many grandchildren with whom he loved to share his love for the game of chess. Williams grew up an orphan and at a very young age developed a stuttering problem. Feeling like a bit of an outsider, he was drawn to model airplanes because it gave him the opportunity to work with his hands and create something. Soon his focus turned to motorcycles and his very first bike came in pieces in three bushel baskets.
“When he started it, he had never driven a bike before and he was in a basement,” Chris said. “He started it up, it took off across the floor and ended up halfway up the stairs before he could shut it off. He didn’t know what he was doing, didn’t know how to shut it off, it was just something he wanted to do and that echoes in a lot of parts of his life.”
Williams operated Williams Motorcycles before closing it in 1990 and then turned his focus on his family-run Arrow Mailing company. He owned a large catamaran and sailed for years with the LaSalle Mariners Yacht Club. In fact, he loved sailing so much he designed his basement to look like the bottom cabin in a boat complete with a tight spiral wooden staircase leading to the basement. He helped John Elliott at Sandwich Teen Action Group in the west end counselling some of the kids.
“No matter where he went he was always well respected,” said his son, Jeff. “Many people were impressed with what he could create. They would say that’s incredible and he’s doing it from a wheelchair.”
He was also instrumental in starting the Learn to Ride motorcycle program at St. Clair College along with helping to write the Motorcycle Mechanic handbook. He was also very vocal on wheelchair accessibility issues throughout the city. He always wanted to give back to the community and take people under his wing, something his sons’ related to the fact he was an poor, orphan who had a stutter.
“He loved anything that was challenging,” Chris said. “He was never that football or soccer guy. He was an amazing person and if you take a snapshot of everything he has done, it’s really very incredible. I think that’s why everyone loved him.”