He’s known as a mentor, friend, and even 'expert proofreader.’ He’s also credited for creating a family culture at work by earning others' trust and showing he cared. And finally, he’s known as a man of integrity and principle who always followed through on what he committed to do.
“He is approachable, very knowledgeable and professional,” Structural Engineer Tanya Wells said. “He is also very conscientious about his work -- that is one of the things I have taken away from working with him.”
The ‘approachable’ ‘expert proofreader’ described above is none other than Engineering and Construction (E&C) Division Chief Steve Williamson.
While he’s occupied many different roles throughout his life, it’s time for him to try another one on for size: Retiree!
With more than 33 years of federal service, Williamson recently concluded one chapter and is now starting another. To help him close out this chapter of life, we're taking a look back to celebrate his life and career with the Memphis District.
Williamson grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. After graduating from Briarcrest Baptist High School, he went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He also holds a Master of Science in civil engineering from the University of Memphis.
To kick off his career, Williamson started out as a casting engineer for a private design firm in North Carolina.
“The firm designed a three-and-a-half-mile replacement bridge for the North Carolina Department of Transportation to cross the Albemarle Sound,” he explained. “We were outside most days, all day, casting concrete for segments that would later be hoisted into place from barges in the Sound. I learned a lot there. It was invaluable."
After a few years in North Carolina, Williamson moved back to Memphis to work for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a structural engineer.
His role as structural engineer included working as a planner and manager of the district’s National Emergency Preparedness Program (NEPP). He was also chief of the Technical Services Support Branch in E&C.
While managing the NEPP, Williamson also served as the action officer on the district’s Emergency Power Planning and Response Team, deploying multiple times in support of FEMA’s disaster response efforts.
Then in May of 2019, Williamson stepped into his final role: Chief of the Engineering and Construction (E&C) Division.
In this position, he was responsible for the design and construction of the district's civil works infrastructure, overseas contingency operations support, and work to support other Federal agencies. He also served as the district levee safety officer.
Williamson had a rewarding 33 years in engineering before retiring. And while his older brother inspired his engineering career, it was Williamson’s passion for engineering that kept him coming back.
"I think the field of engineering is one of the most noble careers in which anyone could choose to work,” he said. “I know doctors and lawyers seem to get the attention for their impacts on society, but just think about everything around you and whether an engineer hasn't been a part of its design or development? Engineers have helped to develop our world in so many ways, solving some problems that really allowed society to leap into the future. We aren't better than anyone else, but we are part of the solution to many of our world's challenges."
This passion for engineering surely contributed to many of his accomplishments, but Williamson attributes much of his success to having patience and perseverance.
“The other thing I can attribute to any success in my career was having the good sense to marry my high school sweetheart, my wife Sheila,” he added. “We have been partners, it seems like, for our whole lives – married 35 years, but we have known each other for at least 46 years. What a woman! Always encouraging and always playing second fiddle. I hope I can make some of that lost time with her up in retirement."
Williamson also credits his mentors for consistently providing guidance and encouragement when he needed it the most.
"I have had many mentors – many that took the time to tell me what I could improve upon, when I've been wrong about something, encouraged me when they saw I needed it, and helped me, physically and willingly, with their own labor, to complete tasks to help me meet goals or deadlines," Williamson said. "They have been men and women and they have been from all walks of life – and in the district, they have been from many different grades and educational backgrounds. Good people don't look a certain way and good people never change. My career has been blessed by my co-workers and they have been my mentors."
It was the support of others, as well as his work ethic, knowledge, and skills that made him the incredible worker he was. But in the end, it was his ability to connect and care for others that people admired the most.
"Steve had a way of creating a family culture within the E&C workgroup," E&C Deputy Chief Matt Turner said. "He did this by earning your trust, showing you that he cared about all of his employees and co-workers. While Steve racked up many accolades, accomplishments and awards in his professional career, what I admire most is the way he carried himself in his personal life; his commitment to his family, church and his community."
Out of the many reasons he’s grateful, Williamson is most thankful for the people he worked with.
"I want to thank all those that have worked beside me over the years – all kinds of people," he said. "The kindness that has been shown to me in my career here at the Memphis District is difficult for me to describe. The district is my second family and, yes, sometimes we fought like a family. But when things had to get done, we came together like families do.”
Design Branch Chief Shane Callahan is a member of that second family, and he too is grateful for Williamson, saying he had a knack for providing different perspectives and feedback that really made Callahan think.
Callahan also appreciated Williamson's listening skills, saying, "He gave whoever was speaking undivided attention and set a great example in that regard."
There’s a lot to miss about Williamson, but Callahan said the thing he would miss most was their shared interest in collegiate sports.
"I will miss how we solved so many of the UT Sports Department's problems over the years,” Callahan said. “Too bad we never shared our ideas with the athletic director at Knoxville."
While it is unfortunate they never communicated their ideas, perhaps even more unfortunate is having to say goodbye (or see you later) to such a great coworker and friend.
His character, professionalism, work ethic, and of course, great sense of humor, will be dearly missed.
Congratulations on your well-deserved retirement, Mr. Steve Williamson! And many thanks for your dedicated service to the district, division, nation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.