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Cooper Williams more than a famous grandfather

By By Sid Salter / columnist
April 24, 2002
The death of retired Philadelphia businessman Cooper Williams made headlines across the South last week for all the wrong reasons.
Famous father-in-law? Famous grandfather? Mr. Cooper was so much more than that and he should be mourned not because of his proximity to those golden names of Mississippi sports legend, but because of the uncommon touch he had in dealing with common men and women in one of the state's most beloved business institutions. He was a good man.
Archie, Peyton, Eli, Amzie
To be sure, he was Archie Manning's father-in-law and the grandfather of Peyton and Eli Manning. That distinction deservedly made him part of a royal Mississippi football family, but it is far from the sum of a resolutely good man's life.
Lord, how proud he was of Archie, Peyton and Eli! Their football jerseys hang from the high rafters of the store along with that of one of his other grandsons, Amzie Williams, who played linebacker for the Ole Miss Rebels in the 1990s.
For the record, Amzie Cooper Williams, 82, died April 18 at Jeff Anderson Regional Medical Center in Meridian of complications from abdominal surgery after an extended illness. His wife, Frances, was released from the hospital on the day Mr. Cooper died fighting her own difficult battle with congestive heart failure. She is a gracious lady.
In 58 years of marriage, they built their world around four children, 12 grandchildren and a store in a community that bore the family name, Williamsville.
Cooper Williams was a small town businessman who operated a family-owned general mercantile store and cotton gin. Williams Brothers Store harkens back to another generation, a better one.
When my grandfather and, later, my father traded with the Williams family almost a century ago, the store sold groceries, staple goods, farm implements, horse bridles and collars, plow lines, tools, barbed wire, shoes, boots, clothing, tobacco, feed, seed, and the best hoop cheese and slab bacon in the world. Still does today. It's everything Wal-Mart is not except over-priced.
Hard work and long hours
There are few places I'd rather go than to Williams Bros. I associate it with family for when my daughter, Kate, is with me, she is the fifth generation of my family to do business with the Williams clan. Some of my earliest memories are of visits to the store with my Papaw Salter and those visits always included a few minutes conversation with Mr. Cooper.
Despite the fact that he was the president of the company, he ran his business from behind the bacon slicer and the cheese cutter. Mr. Williams knew his customers by name and usually their children and grandchildren as well.
The world outside Philadelphia came to know Cooper Williams when his daughter married the famous red-headed Ole Miss quarterback some 30 years ago. But thousands of east central Mississippians knew Mr. Cooper before that "wedding of the century" in Philadelphia.
They knew Mr. Cooper as a man who worked hard every day and put in long hours. They knew him as an honest businessman whose clientele consisted in great measure of rural working people. Rich or poor, black or white or red, he treated his customers with dignity and respect.
He was a quiet, no-nonsense fellow but he sliced that bacon and blocked that hoop cheese for every customer as if he or she were the governor. He "carried" a lot of families on credit when times were hard and soldiered on.
His son, Sid Williams, is now running the store from his dad's old spot behind the bacon slicer. Sid's a chip off the old block.
Williams Bros. like the Manning football legacy will live on. And if Eli plays this fall like he's got a new guardian angel sitting on his shoulder, well, forgive him. He probably does.