Tributes paid to Suffolk running legend Stephen Williams

Stephen Williams (184) in action - the chairman of the Saint Edmund Pacers died last week

Stephen Williams (184) in action - the chairman of the Saint Edmund Pacers died last week - Credit: Archant

Tributes have been paid to Stephen Williams, a well-known member of the Suffolk running and cycling community, who died last week.

Stephen Williams, right, presenting an award to young Saint Edmund Pacer Lewis Sullivan

Stephen Williams, right, presenting an award to young Saint Edmund Pacer Lewis Sullivan - Credit: Archant

Stephen, the chairman of the Saint Edmund Pacers, died at home, surrounded by his family, on June 2.

Born in 1953, he developed a love of cars as a teenager and became a member of the West Suffolk Motor Club. He competed in club-level motor sport, notably auto tests, which involved precision driving against the clock around short courses made up of cones, reversing into ‘garages’ and similar manoeuvres. He drove Minis and was very good at this discipline, regularly winning awards in regional events and competing at an annual national event in Felixstowe.

In the 1990s, he renewed his interest in cycle sport, in which he had dabbled as a younger man, joining the West Suffolk Wheelers. He quickly regained his fitness and became very competitive at time trials, racing set distances against the clock.

He was a member of a WSW team in the National Team Time Trial in 1994 alongside Barry Denny (his friend of 40 years), Steve Newman, and Keith Prendergast, which took place around BSE. He was a very active member of the club for a number of years. Riding a tandem with Barry Denny, he took the club record at 30 and 50 miles, the latter of which still stands.

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In 1975, Stephen married Linda Faddy and soon after, his daughters Dawn and Donna were born. Always a busy man, with his children still young and with a hectic working life, Stephen decided to build his own house, completing much of the work himself.

Stephen eventually worked in the financial sector, qualifying as a financial advisor. He had resolved to retire by age 50, and actually did so at 49; having decided to do something, he did it, taking obstacles in his stride – as was shown with tremendous courage in his later years.

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He was a confident man and always tried to instil this confidence in others. He wanted to see people have the confidence to reach their full potential.

Stephen Williams in action for the Saint Edmund Pacers

Stephen Williams in action for the Saint Edmund Pacers - Credit: Archant

Another of Stephen’s passions was running, at which he also excelled. He joined the Saint Edmund Pacers in 2005 and became chairman of the club in 2011.

It was as chairman that Stephen really did excel. He was so supportive to runners of all abilities and encouraged and motivated many local runners to achieve far more than they thought was possible, both by his own example and by engendering self-belief in those he ran with.

He was hugely popular and very well known in the running world in the region, always representing the Pacers superbly and being a passionate advocate of ParkRun, which he attended each week in Nowton Park. He both participated and marshalled, depending on what his health allowed, but was always present to offer encouragement to others.

As a mark of respect, many runners (in Pacers or ParkRun kit) ran an individual 5 km at 9 am last Saturday in their home area – all in memory of Stephen.

In 2009, Stephen married his second wife, Nancy Smith, whom he had met through their membership of the West Suffolk Wheelers. Nancy was a constant source of exceptional support to Stephen throughout 17 years of ill health and played an active role in supporting his love of running. She soon became very well-known and extremely well thought of by all the Pacers.

During his illness, he underwent countless operations and courses of treatment for a total of 45 tumours attributable to sarcoma and bowel cancer. Throughout this, Stephen continued to be a competitive runner, showing tremendous courage and resilience, and often hitting the track again just days after an operation.

It was this determination that was a true inspiration to others, making people realise that there are no excuses. Even when he was unable to run, he was there time-keeping and providing encouragement.

A socially distanced run was undertaken on Thursday morning from the Sports Centre in Bury St Edmund

A socially distanced run was undertaken on Thursday morning from the Sports Centre in Bury St Edmunds to Risby Crematorium for Stephen Williams' funeral. Runners from the Saint Edmund Pacers, Park Run and other local clubs participated. Picture: KIM SWAN - Credit: Archant

Stephen received the prestigious Elena Baltacha ‘Triumph over Adversity’ Award and the West Suffolk Sports ‘Triumph over Adversity’ Award, both in 2019. At a gala awards event late last year, he was presented with a special award by Rod Allard of Saint Edmund Pacers for his outstanding contribution to the club. At all three of the ceremonies above, he received standing ovations from everyone in attendance.

Stephen’s great love of motor cars never left him, having recently purchased a vintage MGB GT similar to one that he had owned many years ago.

As a father of two daughters – Dawn, 41, and Donna, 40 – Stephen was always fun-loving and inventive. He inspired perseverance and patience in his children and was a constant source of encouragement in all their endeavours, inspiring them both to take up sport at a young age.

Donna achieved much success as a child gymnast, performed as an acrobat in the Millennium Dome and has gone on to achieve great results in national track cycling. She tasted fame as Cyclone on TV’s Gladiators and has worked as a stunt performer in film and television for many years. Lacking confidence when it came to critical performances, she would always call her father ahead of a competition or stunt job.

She said: “Dad was always able to reassure me in a warm, calm, and quiet manner and always managed to get the best out of me and help me believe in myself. He has given this same kind support to all the sportspeople he has come into contact with at the West Suffolk Wheelers and the Saint Edmund Pacers over the years too.”

Dawn has many happy memories of club cycling events with Stephen as a teenager but feels her father’s strongest influence was in encouraging her to pursue her own path in languages. After studying French and German at UEA, she began her career in translation in Ireland, soon moving to Heidelberg, Germany.

She said: “My dad always supported my independent spirit and we certainly share a stubborn and determined streak that helped me greatly when I was establishing myself as a freelance translator. Although I know he regrets me moving away, he was very proud of the life I made for myself in Germany with my husband, Perry. He adored his grandson, Callum, and I try every single day to make life as fun, creative and interesting for my son as dad helped to make my childhood.”

More than 120 people lined the road, socially-distanced, outside Risby Crematorium to applaud Stephe

More than 120 people lined the road, socially-distanced, outside Risby Crematorium to applaud Stephen Williams' contribution to their lives. Picture: KIM SWAN - Credit: Archant

Stephen leaves behind his beloved wife, Nancy; daughters, Dawn and Donna; and grandson, Callum. He changed the lives of many people in the sporting world in the region and will be very sadly missed by all those who were lucky enough to have known him.

In his life there was never the word ‘can’t’, it was always ‘you can, you just haven’t learned yet’: a tremendous mantra that truly sums up his attitude to life.

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