One of Ours: Casper Native, News Legend Pete Williams Retiring From NBC News
He is one of ours.
Pete Williams, a Casper native, forged a career as one of the most respected journalists of his time, serving as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs under the George H. W. Bush administration and as an NBC News correspondent for nearly thirty years.
And now, NBC News President Noah Oppenheim has announced that Williams is retiring from the network.
“I think Pete Williams has had one of the greatest careers at NBC News and one of the greatest careers in broadcast journalism in the past several decades,” Oppenheim told The Washington Post. “There is no way we can ever fill Pete’s shoes, certainly not with any particular reporter.”
But those shoes first learned how to be tied in Casper, Wyoming.
Williams was born in Casper in 1952. His dad was an orthodontist and his mom was a realtor. Williams graduated Natrona County High School in 1970. While there, he competed on the school's debate team and was a member of the National Honor Society.
"Pete was a good man, and was incredibly intelligent," said Tom Perkins, an old friend and classmate of Williams. "I remember we would trade barbs back and forth and I told him once that I didn't like insulting him because, when he insulted me back, he was on a whole 'nother level, intelligence-wise. I didn't understand his insults!"
Williams is supremely intelligent, friends say. After graduating NCHS, he attended Stanford University where, Perkins said, "He graduated in like, three years."
It was while attending Stanford that he studied Journalism, as well as history.
After graduating Stanford, Williams returned home to Casper, where he worked as a reporter and news director for KTWO-TV and K2 Radio News from 1974 to 1985.
According to his bio on NBC News, while working at K2 and with the Radio-Television News Directors Association, of which he served on the board of directors, Williams "successfully lobbied the Wyoming Supreme Court to permit broadcast coverage of its proceedings and twice sued Wyoming judges over pre-trial exclusion of reporters from the courtroom. For these efforts, he received a First Amendment Award from the Society of Professional Journalists."
Pete Williams set a precedent for the station. He ushered in a standard of journalistic excellence and integrity that K2 Radio News continues to replicate to this very day.
In 1986, Williams began working as the press secretary and legislative assistant for congressman Dick Cheney. Following that, Williams was appointed Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, serving under Cheney and President George. H. W. Bush.
"Williams followed him to the Pentagon, where the New York Times noted 'his ability to glide in and out of tough questions,' while dinging him for defending 'restrictions on journalists' covering the war," The Washington Post wrote. "In 1991, journalist and gay rights advocate Michelangelo Signorile published a story outing Williams as gay, to highlight the hypocrisy of the military’s then-ban on gay service members. Williams and his superiors brushed it off. 'I refuse to give it more credit than it deserves,' he said in 1993."
Williams began working for NBC News in 1993. Throughout his near 30-year career, he has covered a variety of topics, from 9/11 to the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg; the Boston Marathon Bombings, the January 6 Capitol Attack and more.
"Pete's reporting has always been ironclad," Oppenheim wrote in an email to employees. "His ability to break down the most complex and fast-developing situations is uncanny."
Williams also reported on some of the Supreme Court's biggest decisions, including the legalization of same-sex marriage and the introduction of the Affordable Care Act.
"We've got 35 Supreme Court decisions to go through, so there’s still a lot of work to be done and probably some surprises from the Justice Department," Williams said in a network conference call Thursday.
The consensus from his colleagues is that Williams was a great reporter, and an even better human being.
"I've needed to contact Pete several times about people or issues about Casper with Washington ties," said Tom Morton, a former colleague. "He responded promptly and concisely, and was always friendly. Local, national, and international media were blessed to have a reporter such as him."
Williams, in his 30-plus-year career, has done phenomenal work. He's made mistakes, sure. We all do. But his track record speaks for itself. He has built a name for himself as a widely-respected professional journalist and he has served as a benchmark for many little kids who have a pencil, a notebook, and a desire to be a news reporter.
"In short, for generations of NBC News reporters, working alongside Pete has been a daily masterclass in journalism," Oppenheim said. "But perhaps more importantly, it has been a masterclass in what it means to be a good colleague. Pete’s decency, kindness, and generosity are unmatched. For those that know Pete well, it’s his warmth, humor, wit, and compassion that will be missed most."
The trajectory of Williams' career is unique and extraordinary. He started as a local TV and radio reporter. Then, he became a Pentagon spokesperson for George H. W. Bush. Then, he went back to hard-news reporting. Because, for many people, for people like Williams, this stuff is just in your blood. The thrill of a scoop, the pressure of a deadline, the power that your words have - that's the stuff that drives journalists.
This writer never knew Pete Williams. But he was friends with my dad. And I continue to work for the man that hired Pete all those years ago. And, try as I might, nothing I write could sum up Williams better than what his former boss, and current friend had to say about him.
"Pete was one of the best 'hires' I ever made," said Bob Price, Williams' former Station Manager. "Pete's incomparable journalistic skills are only surpassed by his robust and grand sense of humor. Our professional relationship over the years brought to me one of the most prized personal friendships I have; he's been there for me in good and difficult times. From a glass of Mouton Cadet to the scaling of the Grand Teton, our time together has enriched me and my entire family.
"I firmly and truly believe he is cut from the same and solid Edward R. Murrow ethic. Pete never lost sight of one of Murrow's famous quotes: 'Your voice, amplified to the degree where it reaches from one end of the country to the other, does not confer upon you greater wisdom than when your voice reached only from one end of the bar to the other.'
Dear friend, good night and good luck."