Larry Williams, the former director of the William J. Hughes Technical Center who returned this year to advocate for the NextGen Aviation Park, has died.

Williams died Friday after suffering a heart attack, said park Executive Director Ron Esposito, who worked under Williams during his time as tech center director from 1982 to 1987.

The Virginia resident was appointed to the NextGen board in January after a series of setbacks delayed the opening of the NextGen facility, first announced in 2005.

“You couldn’t have a conversation with him where he wouldn’t talk about the Tech Center,” said William J. Hughes, the ambassador and congressman for whom the facility was renamed in 1996. “It was a very important part of his life; he loved the center and his fellow employees.”

Hughes said his friend led the Federal Aviation Administration center during the infancy of the NextGen air traffic control system. Williams was one of the key engineers of both NextGen and its predecessor, the National Airspace System.

“It made sense for him to become associated with the project again,” he said.

Esposito said Williams spent many years working for the FAA, between New Jersey and Washington, D.C., including 10 years as the automation and surveillance engineering chief. He later went on to a number of private aviation companies before working as a consultant.

“His career spans so much more than the FAA,” he said. “I’ve always recognized him as one of the top aviation experts out there.”

Despite his expertise and intelligence, Esposito said Hughes “spoke in plain English” and was always willing to work hands-on with people.

Williams also brought a wealth of business acumen and industry contacts with him to NextGen’s board.

“Larry was a giant in the aviation industry, well-known throughout the country,” said Ed Salmon, the board’s president.

Salmon said Williams was instrumental in both finalizing NextGen’s partnership with The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and the board’s obtaining the lease for the park land after the failed oversight of the South Jersey Economic Development District.

“Within the next few months, both of those will come to fruition, and Larry deserves credit for helping to make that happen,” he said.

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