Today we have a guest post by Art Hullender. It is a wonderful tribute to Bill Womack, whose design has left a lasting mark on Memphis.
I’m pretty sure it was a late fall in 2002. I didn’t know at the time that this would be the last time I would ever see Bill Womack. He was in line in front of me during the lunch rush at Central Barbecue, smiling back at me through his signature white Santa Clause beard.
Lines were long at Central, so it gave us plenty of time to catch up. I told him I was stopping off in Memphis on my way to San Diego to work at a tattoo shop on Mission Beach. The beard, the white hair and the suspenders were almost iconic as he listened and smiled the way he always had. Then just as easily as we had made eye contact and reconnected in that familiarity that only a teacher and student can have, he was gone. The next time I would come through Memphis would be when I got the sad news of his passing.
To have known Bill Womack is to not just know a piece of Memphis Type History, but to know a piece of graphic design royalty. You see, Bill was one of the last hand typographers in the country. In a world where most everything is done on a computer now, I feel blessed to have taken my graphic design instruction at a time when we had to learn both ways. And it was Bill that made sure we could do it by hand.
My first semester at Memphis College of Art, I took visual communications from him. He became my advisor. Most importantly, he left his mark on me just as he did this city in which we live. Bill’s legacy can pretty much be seen from midtown to downtown in a blur of large signs and logos on buildings. I actually still play a game when I bike from midtown to downtown as I ride along pointing at signs and saying, “Bill did that.”
Some of the more familiar works that Bill left behind include The Med logo and The Southern College of Optometry logo. No matter which route you use to enter Tennessee, you can always see Bill’s skill in the iconic calligraphic signage that simply says, Welcome to Tennessee.
Of course the work is even more valuable to those of us who remember Bill, because it reminds us of our friend. He was a humble man who always valued the opinion of his students. I remember specifically walking by his office and having him call me in just to see what I thought about his packaging design he was getting ready for Angel Food Ice Cream. Here he was with a piece of work for a real paying client, and he still thought enough of us students to value our feedback.
A large portion of the Memphis design community owe their skills to Bill. He shaped so many of us. He shaped so much of the landscape of a city. Most of all he left his mark on the hearts of all who knew him. So the next time you are driving down Union or Madison towards downtown, just give a little tip of your imaginary hat to a truly great designer and an even greater person.