January 6, 1937 to January 10, 2006
by J. Alex Knoll
I remember the first time I met Joe Williams back in the summer of 1992. I was fresh out of college and recently relocated to Chesapeake Bay while I tried to figure out what to do with my life. Like many recent grads, I took a job waiting tables, in this case at Pirates Cove, where Joe was already a longtime fixture behind the bar.
As the only waiter among more than a dozen women, some of whom had been working at the Cove for decades, I felt the odd man out until Joe shook my hand and introduced himself: “Hey there, partner. Glad to have you on board.”
In a summer when I was also working 10-hour days on a crab boat, Joe was a wealth of stories, so much so that after my shift I would often stay at the bar to listen to him. The lessons Joe taught were nothing you’d read in a textbook.
Born in Harwood, Joe was the child of sharecroppers. With two brothers and three sisters, Joe told me, the family was lucky to get by. “My parents were poor, very poor. We raised cows, horses, sheep,” he said. “We harvested 15 barns of tobacco a year. It was really dirty, hard work.”
Like so many people chasing the American dream, Joe wanted more from life, and as a young man he took a job in Galesville driving a truck for Woodfield’s Seafood. After two years he took another job at Pirates Cove.
“When I first came here,” Joe said, “I was a very scared kid.” He worked as a busboy for two weeks and then washed dishes for two weeks. “Then I came behind the bar one Sunday just to open beer. From that day on it’s been history.”
Joe was living the great American dream. He’d bought a home in Annapolis, raised a family and maintained several cars and trucks, including his pride and joy, a vintage 1969 Pontiac GTO.
“I’ve worked hard, worked my way up, saved my money and bought a home just tending bar,” Joe told me when I interviewed him for one of the first issues of this paper, then called New Bay Times.
A knack for hard work, however, was by no means Joe’s greatest gift. Joe never forgot a face, and he always had a warm, easy smile for everyone he met.
I asked him once about growing up black in Southern Maryland, and his response was true to his character: “There’s good and bad people, black and white. Why should I let them bother me?”
Behind the bar at Pirates Cove, Joe was in his element. Many a time someone would come up and say, “I was in here years ago, and I remember you.” Then Joe would smile, flashing those gold front teeth, and, more often than not, come up with the person’s name.
“There are no strangers,” Joe said, “just people I haven’t met yet.”
Those not fortunate enough to have met Joe lost the chance Tuesday, when Joe died at his home. He had long suffered from diabetes and had had a kidney transplant last April. Even then, Pirates Cove owner Bob Platt said, Joe was eager to get back to work.
As of Bay Weekly’s press time, services for Joe Williams had not yet been arranged.