John Williams (above right), as renowned in real estate as he was for owning the J Class sailing superyacht Ranger, died suddenly on April 16. He was 75 years old.
Williams, a native of the state of Georgia, was one of the country’s most successful real estate developers. From his 20s straight through his 70s, he oversaw the development, build, and management of more than $15 billion in housing, hotels, and offices. Much of his success came with Post Properties, which he founded at the age of 27. He resigned as chairman in 2003, and soon co-founded Preferred Apartment Communities. Still working up until his death, Williams was additionally chairman and CEO.
Besides making a significant mark in real estate, both in Georgia and throughout the United States, Williams was a minority owner of the Atlanta Falcons football team. Yet another sport was a true passion, however: yachting.
Williams commissioned what was the world’s largest sloop at her launch in 2000. Alloy Yachts’ Georgia measured 159’5” (48.62 meters). Just a few years prior, he’d taken delivery of Atlanta from the same shipyard. Her LOA: 121 feet (36.09 meters). As much as he enjoyed cruising aboard them, though, racing stirred his soul. As the story goes, he chartered Endeavour, an original J Class, in the 1990s. He enjoyed the experience so much that he got the idea to build a replica J Class. Ranger, the fastest J in the J Class heyday, was it.
The original Ranger launched in 1937. Harold Vanderbilt, the American railroad executive, commissioned her to defend the America’s Cup that same year. She succeeded. Because of her racing prowess, the yacht earned the nickname Super J. Sadly, she was scrapped in 1941. The good news, though, is that the naval architecture firm Sparkman & Stephens had the original drawings. A team of naval architects and interior designs collaborated with the former Royal Denship yard in Denmark to bring her to fruition. Though faithful to her origins, Ranger differs in having a luxury interior, highlighted by mahogany, for when Williams wanted to enjoy private cruises. He also offered her for charter.
Williams commissioned Ranger in 1999, seeing her launch in 2003. “She was the first new-build J Class yacht for 66 years,” he told the Financial Times’ magazine How to Spend It last year. “I have had a number of large yachts over the years, but owning a J Class is like owning an F1 car. You simply can’t go back.”
Indeed, Williams was often seen with Ranger at regattas. Even onlookers new to yachting soon learned how to spot her. She bears an unmistakable smiley face on her hull (above). As for the regattas where she raced, they’re as famous as the yacht herself. The St. Barths Bucket, the former Newport Bucket (now Candy Store Cup), the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, Les Voiles de St. Tropez, even the J Class regatta during the America’s Cup in Bermuda in 2017. You name it, Williams and Ranger raced it. And loved every minute of it.
Williams’ wife, Nancy, along with three children and two grandchildren survive him.