Brian Williams wins Milan Ilich Award for Leadership

Volunteer Richmond executive director Elizabeth Specht, Milan Ilich Award winner Brian Williams (centre) and Volunteer Richmond and Volunteer BC president Lawrie Portigal. - Rob Newell photo
Volunteer Richmond executive director Elizabeth Specht, Milan Ilich Award winner Brian Williams (centre) and Volunteer Richmond and Volunteer BC president Lawrie Portigal.
— image credit: Rob Newell photo

Project Emily are two words that speak to a story about a man who saw a family in need and took it upon himself to help. Now, he’s helping them rebuild their lives.

Brian Williams was recognized at Volunteers are Stars on Monday with a Milan Ilich Award for Leadership in helping Richmond’s de Boer family at a time they needed it most.

“It’s just (being) in the right place at the right time,” he said. “I’m just so thankful to be sort of a conduit. Our team is a conduit.”

At 11 years old, Emily de Boer lost the use of her legs as a result of a surgical procedure. The family faced significant renovations to make their home accessible—but Rick Hansen introduced them to Williams.

Williams volunteered to help. What started as a bathroom renovation soon became much more. Williams contacted colleagues and suppliers, who agreed to donate materials, time, funds and expertise. He formed a committee dedicated to figuring out the best way to renovate the home. The best way, it turned out, was to tear it down and start again.

The family knew they couldn’t afford that, but Williams is striving to have the entire project completed by year’s end without cost to the family.

To date, Williams has 60 companies involved in the project, and some 250 volunteers. They all believe strongly in Project Emily, and they also believe in the man leading it.

Williams is owner of Ashton Service Group, whose Ashton Caring Team of volunteers is beginning to take on community projects big and small. Williams is also a passionate supporter of the Richmond Christmas Fund and is again raising money for cancer research by participating in the Ride to Conquer Cancer for a third time.

Williams said it was his pleasure to grow up in Richmond as “the little plumber from Broadmoor” watching the award’s namesake, the late Milan Ilich.

“It’s inspiring to see a man who started with a shovel in the Seafair area and grow it to one of the biggest empires we’d ever seen,” he said. “I don’t have the pockets he had but I have the conduit and I’ll help out wherever I can.”

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