For 48 years, Jan Williams has given her life to her customers in Fredericksburg.
Seven days a week, sometimes for 16 hours or more a day, the 68-year-old with a winning smile and an endearing laugh has put her heart and soul into flower arrangements and decorations for weddings, funerals, luncheons, graduations and every other sort of life event.
Her funeral displays have included a United Airlines 747 with wings to scale, two barber poles, a SpongeBob Squarepants and every sort of fish or wild animal you could name.
The woman who knew at the age of 6 she wanted to be a florist has traveled from Boston to Coconut Grove to make wedding boutonnieres, bridal bouquets and centerpieces. She has labored on Christmases, Thanksgivings and other holidays for funerals and special events.
She hasn’t always worked for her own business, but for the past couple decades she’s been the person behind the flowers at Jan Williams Florals.
“I’ve been with longtime customers in some of the truly momentous times of their lives, good and bad,” said Williams. “In doing that, I’ve been part of their family, and that’s meant the world to me.”
The florist, who spent the first 15 years of her career at Flowers By Ross downtown, has been sharing hugs and tears at her current shop on Ferry Road in Stafford County after putting out the word that she’s finally retiring.
“Oh, I’ll still do some work for my best friends and customers, but I’ve reached the point where I don’t want to have a business I have to get to every morning by 6 or 7, seven days a week,” she said. “And though I’ve been lucky to have enjoyed good health, the long days take a toll. My feet hurt so badly after working at Christmas that I had to just get off of them.”
Williams has won most of the honors and achievements a florist can achieve, and her work has been featured everywhere from the White House to Southern Living magazine. She had a big change two years ago when she sold the building on William Street where she’d lived and operated Jan Williams Florals for 21 years.
Her plan going to the Ferry Farm location was to buy it and operate there long enough to be able to sell both the property and the business. But she said that issues with the property seem to have scuttled that plan and she will now shut down the business Feb. 1.
“It’s time, as for a while I’ve been wanting to be able to travel and do things I just haven’t had time for, even things like going to church,” said Williams.
She also put volunteer work and spending time with great nieces and nephews on her bucket list.
Williams said she’s loved every second of her career, and will mostly miss the customers and people she was thrilled to know so well.
“If you do something just for the money, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be fulfilled,” she said. “But if you follow your passion in your work, as I have, you will have a life that’s very fulfilling.”
How did becoming a florist get into her head at age 6?
Partly, she said, by growing up in Gloucester County—daffodil country—where her grandfather, a waterman, had big flower and vegetable gardens. To keep his staff of workers busy, they drove trucks that delivered the daffodils up and down the East Coast.
“Sitting in a daffodil-packing house, looking out over so many of those beautiful flowers they cut in bud stage, was a magical thing,” she said.
Her interest in flowers only grew when her father got a job at Dahlgren and she connected with other flower lovers and growers.
In elementary school, she talked her principal into decorating the front door of the school, and her librarian into letting her put flowers up on the bulletin board. She even talked the judge of a Dahlgren Garden Club contest into letting her win, even though Williams didn’t realize she was too young to enter.
She attended a school that taught floral design and business in Boston, and was thrilled to get a job at Flowers By Ross where owner Dick Ross was smart to give her a free hand doing the flowers for weddings, Christmas and a host of other events.
She fondly remembers the first Christmas show the business created, at the old Sheraton hotel, and the special windows she created each year at Christmas in the different spots the floral business occupied downtown.
“The first one I did was Snoopy and the gang,” she said. “I built a Lucy, put her in a skating costume on a pond, with an oscillating motor that had her turn on the ice.”
Every year she would use Styrofoam, chicken wire, fabric and paint to create other amazing displays, including Father Christmas with a sleigh and a pony made from sheet moss and pine needles.
One year, she was working to make several swans for a Christmas display when one disappeared. She called the police in hopes of finding it.
“Someone had stolen that swan I had on the loading dock, drying,” she said.
When a policeman showed up to take her report and asked for the swan’s value, she answered “Probably $300 or so in materials, but right now, it’s priceless.”
Williams speaks fondly of projects and efforts she’s been part of. Ones she mentioned was the long-running “Deck the Halls” project at the University of Mary Washington, a display house for Fawn Lake that required a switch from short to taller boxwoods. Another favorite moment was the publication of a book that showed her holiday decorating at UMW’s Brompton.
The constant themes in Williams’ recollections are the friendship, connections and service to people.
“I’ve been so blessed to have these 48 special years,” she said. “And it really does feel like it’s flown by in a blink.”