Colorado secretary of state returns to ‘political home’

The Warren Sentinel

FRONT ROYAL — Anybody can make a difference in life if they get involved, put forth the effort and remain persistent.

Wayne W. Williams learned that lesson in the halls of Warren County High School — today's Warren County Middle School — and applies it in the halls of the Colorado State Capitol.

The Colorado secretary of state will return to Front Royal to speak at the Warren County Republicansí Lincoln Day dinner on Feb. 12.

Williams, as a Colorado state official, said he has delivered keynote speeches at several Lincoln Day dinners and other events. He frequently draws upon his Front Royal roots.

"It's where I got my start, so it's my political home," he said.

Williams moved to Front Royal with his family in 1978, just before his sophomore year at Warren County High School. His father, Jack, was the facilities manager at the Smithsonian Institutionís Conservation and Research Center ó now known as athe Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

The younger Williams was quick to get involved after arriving in Front Royal, playing on the high schoolís basketball team and participating in other extracurricular activities.

He was elected student body president the spring after his arrival. In that role, he attended School Board meetings and spoke from the studentsí perspective. It was his introduction to the world of government.

"We're enjoying a relatively strong economy these days, but the late 1970s were not so prosperous for Warren County. Inflation and unemployment were running high, as was the case nationwide. When Wendy's opened, there were 500 job applications for that Wendyís," Williams said.

In addition, Williams was moved by the history of his school.

"This is the county that 18 years before I lived there didn't have a graduating class because they shut the high school down rather than integrate," he said. "That's not the type of leadership that you want for the county."

So Williams volunteered with Republican candidates' campaigns for county supervisor.

He also organized about 70 other students to volunteer at the polls.

"We had two or three students at every polling place," Williams said.

While many of his classmates spent their time hanging out with each other, Williams was hanging out with the county's Republican brass in the law library at the Warren County Courthouse.

"I remember being there in the middle of winter, opening the windows so I could breathe," he said. "It literally was a smoke-filled room."

Williams was present as local GOP leaders including Joe Swiger, Bob Liddy, John Marlowe and Bob Traister hammered out the strategy that swept their party into control of the Board of Supervisors.

"Although most of us couldn't even vote, we still played a pretty key role in helping to shift the political dynamics and the economic well-being of the community," Williams said.

Swiger, who served two terms as Warren County GOP chairman, said he was proud of Williams' accomplishments.

"They come as no surprise to me," Swiger said. "I've mentored several political candidates over 60-plus of my 75 years and Wayne was indeed a premier one."

Swiger took Williams along to the 1980 state Republican convention in Virginia Beach. While the waves were calling, Williams was too busy on the convention floor to hear them.

"I might have been there once, but mostly, I thought the convention was fun," he said.

His interest in politics allowed him to meet such luminaries as First Lady Nancy Reagan and Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr.

After graduating from Warren County High School, the Star Leadership Award winner attended Brigham Young University and the University of Virginia, where he served as chairman of the college Republicans and was a member of the university Senate while earning his law degree.

While at BYU, he met his future wife, Holly. They married here, having their reception at the home of Del. Andy Guest, who served 27 years in the House of Delegates, including six as minority leader.

After moving west, Williams held a number of local elected offices in Colorado Springs before successfully running for secretary of state in 2014.

As a frequent speaker at various events, he sometimes comes back to Front Royal, so the growth will not be a culture shock.

During one visit in 2010, Williams took his daughter Lindsay to the Apple House Restaurant in Linden.

"The person working there comes out from behind the counter, hugs me, calls me by name and asks how my birthday was," he said.

It was Beverly Ward, he said, a classmate who happened to share the same birthday. Ward no longer works at the Apple House and could not be reached for comment.

While Warren County has grown considerably since he left, the same friendly spirit he remembers remains, he said.

Next week, Williams will be in Washington, D.C., for a meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State, which afforded him the opportunity to attend the local Lincoln Day dinner.

Williams calls it a return to his "political home," but he carries his experiences here with him everywhere he goes, he said.

"I use that as secretary of state talking about how important it is to be involved and how you can make a difference because we were a bunch of kids and we helped to change county government without even having the ability to vote," he said.

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