FLINT, Michigan—One could often find William Alexander at the Neighborhood Engagement Hub, where he served as board treasurer and was known as “Mr. A.” He would gently meander through, greeting anyone he saw before settling into his own dedicated cubicle where he would check his email, download forms, or surf the web to check the latest stock market trends.
Sometimes upon hearing a familiar jazz tune floating through the office, he would smile knowingly and recall the artist. He was a Miles Davis man, with a heavy literary appetite. This left little room for television, but when he got the chance he would catch up on the latest economic reports on C-span.
He was a renaissance man with fine taste, who took no concern in flash and glitz but with a deep appreciation for one’s composition and experience.
William Alexander died May 11, 2019. He resides in the memory of those who knew him as a fixed lighthouse quietly showing the way for his community and immovable bedrock to his family, providing constant support and a solid foundation.
His life and legacy is being honored as part of the Civic Park Centennial Gospel Celebration 2-6 p.m., Aug. 3, at the Heritage and Harmony Stage on Dayton Avenue.
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“He told everybody to never set your dial to one station, you need to experience them all,” recalled Terrence Alexander, 49, William Alexander’s nephew. "He gave service to his family and community. Period.”
Alexander grew up on a rural farm in Covington, Tenn., along with his nine other siblings. After graduating high school in 1958, at 18 years old, Alexander left for the Navy. He served eight years during the Vietnam War era at bases and working on submarines in Florida, California, Germany and Scotland.
By the time William Alexander’s youngest brother, Otis, was born, William had already gone off to the Navy — but he remained keenly aware of the love and support coming from his older brother. “When he was in the Navy, he helped us in school and bought us a set of encyclopedias and science books and sent them home,” Otis Alexander said.
His sister, Beverly Jacks, 62, remembers William giving her a slide rule — a mechanical tool used in the 50s and 60s that predates computers and calculators — when she was a kid. He was always gadget man — whether it was computers, cameras, or radios, Jacks remembers.
“(Sometimes ) he bought them but he didn’t know how to use them,” Jacks chuckled. “He was too busy. He had too many other things on his plate. He was always doing stuff. That’s what I miss the most. His enthusiasm about everybody else.”
He moved to Flint four years after returning from service. William Alexander never married or had children, instead pouring his love into many nieces and nephews.
He earned an associate’s degree in Electronics Engineering Technology from Jacksonville (Fla.) Community College and worked for 11 years as a skills technician for Maxwell House Coffee Company. He also worked for several years as a boiler technician for the Michigan School for the Deaf before going on to work three decades for General Motors, primarily in metal fabrication. During that time he also continued his education at the University of Michigan-Flint, earning a bachelor’s degree in economics.
Alexander officially retired in 2007, but he never stopped working — especially once he moved to Civic Park on Welch Boulevard in the 1980s.
He was an avid real estate investor, advocate of urban gardening, and a persistent mobilizer. He was a frequent organizer for local political campaigns and in 2014 became a founding member of the current Civic Park Neighborhood Association, which had been dormant for years prior. He also chaired the Citizen Advisory Board for the Genesee County Land Bank.
“He was a soldier in our community. He was a shining star,” said Holly Wilson, co-organizer of the Civic Park Centennial Gospel Celebration and a neighborhood liaison for the Neighborhood Engagement Hub. “He was wisdom. He was the voice of reason. He was a doer.”
Throughout his years of service to the community, Alexander especially worked to uplift Flint youth. While working at GM, he leveraged his position as a UAW International Representative for Apprenticeship to guide Flint youth to job exposure in the skilled trades.
He went on to provide mentorship with 100 Men 100 Boys group, a subset of Big Brothers Big Sisters. He helped develop STEM in the Hood, a program that focused on tutoring youth in the math and sciences.
William Alexander gave and gave. It was just his nature, said Terrence Alexander, whose first home was purchased by his uncle.
A relationship with him was a subscription to continual personal investment in wisdom, guidance, and love, Terrence Alexander said. Mr. A is remembered for pouring his heart into the smiles of his nieces and nephews, the blighted lots of Civic Park neighborhood, and the future of all Flint youth. He leaves behind a legacy that lives in the whisper of a Miles Davis tune over the radio, the timeless gadgets of curiosity he collected and shared, and the endless memories of his family.
“We lost a brother. A good friend. A good service to the community. A patriarch,” Jacks said.