The Historical Society of Central Florida will present its prestigious John Young History Maker Award to Pat Williams, co-founder and senior vice president of the Orlando Magic.
The award is named for NASA’s longest-serving astronaut, Capt. John Young, who grew up in Orlando and was its first recipient. It is given annually to a Central Floridian whose achievements have made a historic impact on the community and is the Historical Society’s highest honor.
As sports columnist Mike Bianchi has written, Pat Williams is “the dreamer and doer who brought professional sports to Orlando” in the mid-1980s. A basketball Hall-of-Famer, he has been named one of the 50 most influential people in NBA history.
Already a veteran basketball manager, Williams joined with businessman James Hewitt in the mid-1980s to convince NBA leadership that Central Florida could support an NBA franchise. The league awarded the Orlando Magic an expansion spot in 1987, and the team made its debut in 1989 with Williams as its inaugural manager. The team went to the NBA Finals in 1995 after the Magic, represented by Williams, drafted Shaquille O’Neal in 1992 and Penny Hardaway in 1993.
Williams and his wife, Ruth, are also well known in the community as the parents of 19 children, including 14 adopted from four nations. The family has been featured in publications ranging from Good Housekeeping to The Wall Street Journal. A popular speaker on topics including leadership and team-building, Williams has also inspired others during his battle with multiple myeloma, diagnosed in 2011.
At the 11th Annual John Young History Maker Celebration on April 5, the Historical Society will also honor Dr. William Monroe Wells with its History Maker Past Award. Wells (1889-1957) was an influential Orlando doctor who in 1921 built a hotel to serve African Americans, who were barred from segregated hotels. The building now houses the Wells’ Built Museum and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Wells also built the South Street Casino, the site of many performances by famous musicians and a longtime center of community.
The April 5 event also features the presentation of two 2017 John Young History Maker Future Awards and scholarships.
Funds raised from the John Young History Maker Celebration support exhibitions and educational programs at the Orange County Regional History Center.