“Hey, honey. How you doin’,” an excited deep male voice says dripping with an eastern Kentucky drawl. “Now, don’t say nothin’ yet. Just listen, OK. I need you to listen and then you can talk.”
When Ricky Lee Williams would call it would almost always start with what was on his mind. He had an idea, and he needed for it to be heard. It did not matter if you were busy, or what was going on – for Ricky it was always important and all-consuming.
The idea would come out in a torrent, “We need to do something about these overdose deaths. People are dying, and no one is doing anything. We got to get something done. Who can get something done.” He might say and then build from there. “XXXX ain’t doing shit. We need to do something.”
There would be cussing, always some finger pointing, complaints, and lots of requests. He lived life hard and fast. He was a ball of fire – all consumed with what was happening in his home state.
He kept up with electoral politics – he knew the inside story, the backstory, and controversy, but he was rare in that he also knew the policy, and cared about both. He was glued to what was happening in the General Assembly.
“I think he must’ve had two TVs,” said one lawmaker, who remarked Ricky must have watched both Senate and House Chambers at the same time. “He probably knew the goings on in the legislature better than most of the lawmakers.”
If he liked what a legislator said he would call and tell them, he could be a great cheerleader. If he didn’t and he liked them, he would say, “I can’t be with you on this one.”
Ricky Lee talked to everyone he thought could get something done. He was a Kentuckian first and a Republican second. He only cared about getting things accomplished.
My first experience with Ricky was more than 10 years ago. He was calling and calling and calling Ryan Alessi just before a show on cn|2 Pure Politics. I was at my desk which sat diagonal to Ryan. We were running behind schedule, like always, and about to head to the studio and put on the show. But Ricky needed to talk. He called, and kept calling. He called on the office line, then he called Ryan’s cell phone – over and over the phone rang until Ryan finally answered.
“Ricky I’m busy – I’ll call you back,” Ryan said, as I sat wondering what the hell was going on. Ryan hung up the phone and when he came back to his desk from taping he called Ricky back. I think he knew before long that the phones would start ringing again if he didn’t.
A couple years later Ryan moved to Murray and Ricky began calling me as I was at the anchor desk. He was conspiratorial. At the time, he insisted, for his protection, on being called a false name, “save my number in your phone under this name,” he said. I won’t share what that name was, but he had a sense of humor.
During those years he would also post on the Pure Politics website comments section under another moniker – he enjoyed stirring the pot. And he would claim that much was accomplished through his comments. There really is no one else quite like him.
Ricky passed away April 27 after a battle with cancer. He pushed harder than ever in his final days and called out everyone, sometimes to a fault. The wheels of government often turn slow, but Ricky didn’t have time for that.
He was tired of the games in politics. He needed to be heard and needed what he called substance from elected officials and from the media. He wanted to make a difference and he did – he was heard in ways he might have never known.
Ricky Lee was a reminder of what mattered. He was a constituent who knew how to harass officials and the media in a demand for action. It’s been months since my phone has hummed with phone calls and text messages from Ricky trying to tell me what to do.
I owe him a call back. He’d called. It was urgent. I already knew he was going to pester me to do something, to make a plan, to back him up, to talk to someone he wanted me to talk to.
He unapologetically stepped over the line, often. I blocked his calls for a while many years ago. He got a new number. He laughed with me about that, and started a new line of questions, gripes, and ideas.
Ricky connected people. He spoke to everyone. I’ve been talking to legislators about Ricky Lee, and was told he was speaking to all of them, Democrats and Republicans, at least the ones who can get things done (you know who you are). Most of them did not know they were all talking to Ricky, at least not for a while.
“You know Ricky Lee,” one legislator said to another in the Capitol. “I’ve been talking to him for years,” came the reply.
He brought strange bedfellows to the table over issues. He did not let politics get in the way when important matters were at stake.
He was rare. He would talk to you in a way you wouldn’t let anyone else speak to you. But you let him do it. That’s just who he was. He might get madder than hell, and turn into that ball of fire. He burnt bridges at the end, and coming close to Ricky Lee everyone got singed as he fought to get things done no matter who he thought was in his way. Even before his diagnosis, Ricky Lee did not have a second to waste. He hated the introductions, marching bands, and pageantry that take place during the legislative session – he was a man of action.
For Ricky, the work wasn’t done. He lived a ride it ‘til it quits attitude. He was a man on a mission, he could recognize what he had accomplished, but wanted to be here to see it all fit in place. The world does not always work like that.
Ricky empowered so many to see the change they could make for the better. Not to see someone get elected, but to get rid of the ones not doing the work and get someone in place who could do something for the state and their community. He advocated for things that never even came near to touching him.
Whether you knew him or not, Ricky Lee has touched your life. There will be loved ones sitting around the dinner table that might not be there, but for Ricky’s persistence and ability to bring people together. If not for him connecting the decision makers and empowering those to make a difference we’d all be poorer.
He was interested in the truth. The last text I have from him is thanking me for bringing forward the truth.
Thank you, Ricky. Your heart was always in the right place.
Give me a call when you get a new number.