A sad farewell to our friend, Michael Williams
30th October 2023
Long-time Farmers Guide contributor, Michael Williams, died in late September. He had written regularly for this magazine for many years, and wrote his final machinery article for our January 2023 issue.
Michael, or ‘Ralph’ as he was better known to his family and long-term friends, grew up in Wiltshire and then studied agriculture at Reading University, during which time he saw the industry’s first autonomous tractor operating, before taking up a management post on a Gloucestershire farm. He began his writing career as a news editor at Farmers Weekly, then worked for Howard Rotavator based at West Horndon in Essex before relocating with the company to Suffolk in 1975.
Fascinated by mechanisation
Having always been fascinated by the history of farm mechanisation, Michael wrote his first of many books on the subject in 1974. Published at a time when books on the history of tractors were few and far between and requiring him to source all the information from company and museum archives, ‘Farm Tractors in Colour’ proved extremely popular and was reprinted many times in its original format, and later for markets worldwide. Many more books followed, including a series commissioned by John Deere and several for Massey Ferguson. He also authored and presented videos focusing on the history of major tractor brands including several filmed in the USA, at a time when there were few similar on the market.
Keen to promote interest in agriculture and particularly farm machinery to the younger generation, Michael also wrote several non-fiction books about tractors for children and teenagers and these also sold well.
In 1982, Michael left Howard Rotavator to join new national weekly farming publication, Farming News as machinery editor. After several years he left Farming News to work as a full-time freelance writer, contributing to leading farming publications in the UK and overseas. Living in mid-Suffolk and friendly with Farmers Guide founder Doug Potts, Mike and Doug would often share lifts to press events around the UK, and Mike later became a regular contributor to the magazine, which was regional at that time.
As a member of the Guild of Agricutural Journalists, Michael won many awards for his writing. In 2020, he received the Netherthorpe Communicator of the Year Award – the Guild’s highest accolade.
The Netherthorpe’s perpetual “crowing cockerel” trophy – displayed at The Farmers Club in London – is presented annually to the Guild member who has made an outstanding and sustained contribution to agricultural communications.
As well as keeping readers informed of latest machinery developments through the wide range of publications, Michael found time to give talks at machinery clubs across the Eastern Counties and he judged the vintage tractors at the annual Woolpit Steam event in Suffolk for more than 20 years. He thoroughly enjoyed inspecting all the tractors and took the task very seriously – judging the entries on their originality, how they were presented, and whether information and implements were displayed too.
Devoted family man
Michael loved his work, but he loved his family even more. While at Reading University, he met Sylvia – who he married a few years later in 1961. The couple were happily married for more than 62 years, during which time they had three children: a son and two daughters. The addition of five grandchildren made family gatherings extra special events, and by the time of Michael’s death there were also four great-grandchildren to keep him busy and who he adored. Someone who enjoyed toddlers more than young babies, Michael enjoyed reading to them, discussing whatever was fascinating them at the time, and showing them the workings of his antique grandfather clock, which he owned for more than 50 years.
After more than 75 years avoiding hospitals, Michael became ill with cancer in 2012. Despite his friendliness, he was a very private man, and dreaded the frequent check-ups and treatment, but let the doctors and nurses do their jobs and the disease was kept at bay. Throughout this period, that continued until his death this year, Michael never complained but was grateful for the treatment and care he received. He continued working, and within hours of returning home after each operation, he would be sitting at his desk in his study, writing to meet the deadlines of various publications.
He died peacefully of pneumonia on the 18th September in the West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds with members of his family at his side. He was a gentleman, kind and considerate, and always believed in putting others before himself. He will be greatly missed by family, friends and business colleagues as well as all those who enjoyed reading his articles and books.