Big Willie

One of my favorite employees from the 1970’s and 80’s was Willie Jackson. I never heard anyone call him anything but Big Willie.

Big Willie was well over 6 feet tall and was like a gentle giant. For you young folks, if you can imagine this, it was in the days before hand held calculators were around. We all did math with paper and pencil, if not in our heads. I have written before about my father, Joe’s insane math abilities and the sharpness of another longtime employee, Ralph Houston. They were both fast and good. Big Willie was not as fast as them but he was every bit as accurate. You could not rush him, but you knew that when he calculated a load on paper it was going to be correct.

Big Willie at the Wish Farms packing house in 1976
Big Willie at the Wish Farms packing house in 1976

 

I remember when I ran the Webster, FL packinghouse Big Willie spent several seasons with me there as the shipping supervisor. I was very sensitive to the urgency of getting trucks loaded quickly so they could make overnight markets in the northeast. You just could not rush Big Willie. I remember more than one time watching him painstakingly hand write a truck manifest. “Big Willie, we have to get this truck on the road.” I may have said as Willie would meticulously in perfect handwriting pause at the end of writing each word and put a little curly cue flare into the air. Uncle Lester would call and ask if the New York truck was on the road yet. I would say, no we are billing him out still. Uncle Lester would remind me that we better hurry or he would miss the market. You just didn’t rush Big Willie.

One early spring day in the 80’s Big Willie was working on the Plant City dock as a receiver. He hardly ever got mad, but he did this day. He was on the dock, sitting in a chair, by the receiving desk. It was early in the afternoon and there was a lull in the action. He dosed off in the chair, something that he did not normally do. Another employee got the bright idea to pin a note to him while he was sleeping. The note read, “As long as you are asleep you have a job. When you wake up, your ass is fired.” Big Willie woke up and became furious upon reading the note. His sense of humor was a little challenged and this was not funny to him at all.

Big Willie with a fellow worker at the Wish Farms packing house in 1976
Big Willie with a fellow worker at the Wish Farms packing house in 1976

If anybody wants to hear what Big Willie talked like, ask Chuck Hollenkamp to do an imitation. Chuck does a very good Big Willie, complete with the curse words he used when he discovered the note.

I attended Big Willie’s funeral when he passed in the late 80’s. It was very well attended. Many people got up and spoke about what a good person he was. The most touching speech was given by a neighbor who spoke of his love of children and children’s love of Big Willie. He said that in their neighborhood children would run away from most men when they saw them, but in Big Willie’s case, children ran to him. I am not sure what that said about his neighborhood, but the point was clear that he had a big heart.

Children loved Big Willie and so did I.

We are headed for great things, as long as we don’t scare the children.