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Errol Williams was many things, but Santa Barbara knew him well from the way he could make everyone at The Palace feel they were the most important person in the room. | Credit: Courtesy

Errol E. Williams: 1951-2019

Errol E. Williams lived by these words for the 67 years he spent on this Earth. On the gray and foggy Santa Barbara morning of June 8, he left our world to explore new horizons. Since we know he brought joy, love, and laughter everywhere he walked in this world, we are certain that he’s doing the same at his next stop.

Born on December 1, 1951, in Kingston, Jamaica, Errol likely entered this life with a smile on his face and extra love in his heart. He spent his early years in Kingston and began a “career in the food industry” at a young age as a milk delivery boy. He never forgot the before-dawn work and often told stories of delivering milk in the dark. He must have liked it as he kept his focus on the food industry after he moved to the United States.

Errol first landed in Virginia and then tried Minneapolis. Luckily for us, he finally settled in sunny Santa Barbara, where he combined his restaurant and amazing people skills to create a standard for local establishments that was hard to duplicate. He shared his talents with the most elite restaurants in town, including Michael’s Waterside, El Encanto, and The Biltmore. But, he spent his last 26 years at The Palace Grill where he became The Palace and The Palace became him. 

There, through his vision, leadership, and love for others, Errol created an iconic place to celebrate a special day or just a place to go and feel loved. He left behind a long-term staff that considered him a mentor, a friend, and, more importantly, family: “We celebrate his life and love in everything we do … how we treat each other, how we laugh, love, and have fun. … His spirit lives on in the Palace,” the restaurant wrote in a farewell for Errol.

Photo: CourtesyErrol E. Williams

Errol is remembered for many things at the Palace beyond his leadership. It would not be unusual to find him demonstrating his “yoga moves” before hours by standing on his head between two chairs or gliding through the restaurant using his well-honed tai chi moves. He often referred to the staffers as “my boy” or “child” in a loving manner that was always heartwarming. At times, especially when he was very busy, his Jamaican accent was so strong that they had a hard time understanding him! But, some of the best memories everyone mentioned were Errol’s Halloween costumes. From one year to the next, he would be the “Rasta Fairy,” the “Gingerbread Man,” or the “Jester Clown.” Then there was the time he wore the pink tutu. Errol was always such a good sport.

When he wasn’t making you feel like the most important person in the room, Errol also loved good food (the spicier the better); fine wine (he never met one he didn’t like); doing yoga, tai chi, or Pilates; spending time with his adorable dog Rollo (and before him, Santo); walks on the beach with his wife; and just savoring quiet moments in his charming and serene home.

Errol leaves behind his loving wife of 33 years, Debra Jones Johnson. When she met him, she said she knew that she would have to share him with the world, and her ability to do this helped to lead to a long and happy partnership between them. It was one that all their friends admired and respected. Errol also leaves behind two happily married sons, four grandchildren, two sisters, two brothers, numerous nieces and nephews, a proud and loving mother, and too many friends to count.

Errol knew no strangers. He touched so many lives in Santa Barbara that he is considered a local legend. He had a way of making people feel special ​— ​of making them laugh and even sing! Errol’s life epitomized the words of the Louis Armstrong song “What a Wonderful World,” which all Palace diners will recognize. The restaurant’s staff says that whenever they hear this song, their thoughts will inevitably turn to Errol. They’ll think of him and smile.

Godspeed our friend. The world will not be the same without you, but your spirit lives on in all of us.

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