Ron Williams is National Western Stock Show's 2022 Citizen of the West

The National Western Stock Show’s 2021 postponement has been disappointing for countless participants and attendees, even as it’s allowed the complex’s $1 billion construction project to push forward.

But its highest honor, the Citizen of the West, could not skip a year.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” said Ron Williams, the 74-year-old business leader, philanthropist and former National Western Stock Show chairman who received the award this week. “But I knew I’d be terribly appreciative if I did. There are a lot of great candidates for it here, but I’m honored I ended up being the one for this coming year.”

The annual Citizen of the West award recognizes “those who embody Western pioneers’ spirit and determination and perpetuate their agricultural heritage and ideals,” stock show officials said. A committee of community leaders, including past winners such as Bruce and Marcy Benson (2020’s recipients), select each new winner.

Despite this week’s announcement, Williams will not formally receive the award until Jan. 22, 2022, during the Stock Show’s planned return. Proceeds from the dinner will support 100 scholarships that the National Western Scholarship Trust awards annually to students in Colorado and Wyoming who major in agricultural science, rural medicine or veterinary medicine, stock show officials said.

“I felt it was important that we announce this during the time when the show had been postponed so we can celebrate Ron Williams the entire year,” said Paul Andrews, president and CEO of the National Western Stock Show. “We’ll be celebrating the opening of the new Cill and Ron Williams Stock Yards at the 2022 show, as well as the new Hutchinson Western Stockyards, so that will make it a commemorative ticket.”

For Williams and his wife, Cill, it will be the latest and greatest recognition in a career full of them. Williams was born in a small town in Nebraska, one of only 10 kids in his rural school — and 300 people in his entire town, according to a 2016 CoBiz profile.

“When I was 10 years old I was driving a tractor for my uncle, so I’ve always been involved in agriculture at some level,” said Williams, who came to Denver in 1967 after graduating with his master’s degree from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

Here, Williams worked as an accountant for Arthur Anderson and, in 1977, joined Samuel Gary Oil Producer Inc. (later Gary-Williams Energy), where he would become an owner, president and CEO. That company’s community investment division, The Piton Foundation, supported nonprofits including the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Denver Preschool Program, Urban Land Conservancy and others.

“This is where Mr. Williams first became involved in and found a passion for philanthropy,” stock show officials said.

“Nineteen-sixty-seven may seem like a long time ago, but it’s not that long to me,” Williams said. “Although, when I came to Denver the tallest building in town then was the 31-story Security Life Building (now 1600 Glenarm Place). If you went out for lunch at noon, you’d walk a block and see five people that you knew. … The growth has been dramatic but, for the most part, I think it’s been managed well.”

Over his years as a metro-area business leader — including a 2016 induction into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame — Williams flexed his philanthropic muscle by helping lead the capital campaign to raise private funds for a new state-of-the-art Children’s Hospital at the Fitzsimons Campus in Denver, gathering $250 million.

He also served on the board of directors for the Denver Public Schools Foundation for a decade, where he raised $10 million for the organization, and on the board of the University of Colorado Hospital. He’s a longtime member of the powerful Colorado Forum of business leaders. But, even as he attended the National Western Stock Show annually, it wasn’t until 2004 that he joined the stock show’s board.

“Pat Grant (former National Western chairman) asked if I would consider it then,” Williams said, “and it took me about two seconds to say, ‘Absolutely.’ ”

A natural fit for the organization, Williams has brought attention and support to National Western projects ever since then. He acted as chairman for a time and, starting next year, will be able to see his and his wife’s name on one of its busiest stockyards. Williams still owns a little cattle ranch in Kansas, Andrew said.

“He’s just a tremendous selection for this award,” he said. “He’s given so much in terms of philanthropy his entire career. He’s found this balance between being a very tough businessman and being fair and caring about people. Nobody I know cares about people more than Ron. I don’t think he has an enemy in Colorado, and our entire staff loves him to death.”

Williams said he’s still focused on bringing the stock show back, and keeping the organization strong in the meantime.

“A lot of people in the agriculture industry, along with ranchers, hog raisers — they come to us because this is almost like an educational vocation for them,” Williams said. “At the stock show, they get to meet their peers, learn and do business with each other. There’s a lot that goes on down in those yards each January.”

Without a stock show this year, however, Williams will also continue his philanthropic work. It’s contributed as much to his own happiness as his business successes, he said.

“It’s funny how, if you step out of your comfort zone and get involved in things like that, it changes your perspective on what’s important,” he said. “I like to think we can learn from everyone we meet by taking little pieces of what works and integrating that into ourselves.”

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