Mark Williams Retires As DNR Commissioner After 13 Years
Replacement who will oversee 1,600 DNR employees still undecided.
“Rarely do opportunity and timing collide.” Those words sum up Mark Williams’s decision to retire after 13 years as the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Starting July 1, he will leave his current position to serve as the Executive Director of the Jekyll Island Authority. As a resident of St. Simons Island, his transition is bittersweet.
“I love the DNR with all my soul, but I love my family more, and I’m looking forward to working closer to home,” said Williams.
Williams has been Georgia’s longest serving DNR commissioner. His statewide responsibilities were extensive, overseeing an agency of approximately 1,600 employees.
“The people made the job easy,” Williams said. “That’s what I will miss the most… the people. One of the biggest honors of my life has been to serve with such a great team. The DNR has amazing leaders within it. In fact, I will tell my successor that their most important responsibility as commissioner is to nurture emerging leaders within the agency so that it continues to thrive.”
Williams noted that he had also been very fortunate to serve under pro-hunting and fishing governors; it makes the job easier when your boss understands the issues.
It is evident why Williams made such a positive impact on the DNR and in the state of Georgia. His life resume is full of personal interactions. As the son of public-school educators, Williams followed in his parents’ footsteps after graduating with a biology degree from Georgia College in Milledgeville. After a short stint in education and coaching, Williams spent 26 years as a partner at his father-in-law’s real estate business in Jesup. The Army National Guard veteran then decided to try his hand in politics, serving two terms in the Georgia State House of Representatives from 2006 to 2010.
Reflecting on how he became the Commissioner of DNR, Williams said, “I got the call when I was deer hunting in Kansas with some friends in December 2010. I came in from the morning hunt and was about to start cleaning my largest buck to date but checked my phone first. I had missed calls from outgoing Governor Sonny Perdue, the late Speaker David Ralston and incoming Governor Nathan Deal. I called Governor Deal back, and he asked me if I would consider being the Commissioner of DNR. It did not take me long to come to a decision, but wisely I said, ‘Let me check with Pam.’ I was home the next day and called Governor Deal back. It was one of the best decisions of my life.”
Thirteen years later, Williams reflects, “I have done my best. When I began the job, my goals were to expand hunting and fishing access in the state of Georgia and above all else, do no harm. As a hunter and fisherman, I was a DNR customer before this job, and one day I knew I would go back to being just that. So, I have strived to lead our Agency to be responsive to our customers and expand access.”
When asked about his biggest accomplishments on the job, Williams responded quickly, “Creating the Law Enforcement Division, starting the DNR Leadership Academy, and acquiring over 148,000 acres for public hunting and fishing.”
The more Williams talks of his position, the more you can see where his heart has been; it has been with people.
Every day was a new challenge, and pleasing all of DNR’s diverse customers is impossible.
“When making decisions as the Commissioner, whether popular or unpopular, you have to consider the social, political but most importantly the biological impact they will have,” he said.
He relied heavily on the experience and sound leadership of the team he had in place around him to stick to his plan, despite risking potential unpopularity on occasions.
“I don’t have any regrets. I just did the best I could and relied on the outstanding leadership all around me.”
Although Williams had many wonderful memories from his 13 years with the DNR, one of his favorites involved going out with the Right Whale team to study the mammals for research purposes.
“That was one of the highlights of my time as Commissioner, seeing those huge Right Whales up next to the boat and watching our team do their work.”
In a serious tone, Williams said, “I tell people I have four hobbies….” He paused for effect and then let out a laugh. “My four hobbies are hunting, fishing, shopping at Bass Pro Shops and reading GON!” No wonder he has done such a fine job of leading the DNR!
His love for his family is evident, and he is unable to suppress the excitement he feels for his two daughters and four grandchildren.
“I would be lying if I said that I am not happy about working closer to my grandkids,” Williams said of his daughter Mary Katelyn and her husband Troy’s two sets of twins. “That’s why my wife Pam and I moved to St. Simons from Jesup two years ago, to be with family. I only have an 11-mile drive to work now (for the Jekyll Island Authority) instead of commuting five hours back and forth to Atlanta.”
Williams was quick to say that he made the long drive to the state’s capital without complaints and would do it all over again.
So, who is next in line? A phone call to the Governor’s Office to obtain information about the potential candidates to fill the DNR Commissioner role was expectedly unrewarding: “At the time we do not have any information regarding the appointed position.”
In response to the same question, Williams said with a laugh, “I honestly do not know who my successor will be, but he or she will be in for a rewarding experience.”
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