Updated 5 yearss ago
Bob Williamson, 64
Family: Wife, Teresa; sons, Jim, Michael and Jon; seven grandchildren
Primary former businesses: WASCO (Wildlife Artist Supply Co.), Horizon Software International, Breakthrough magazine
Book: Williamson spent two years writing his life story, "Miracle on Luckie Street."
Three years ago, fresh from the $75-million sale of his 16-year-old Horizon Software company, Bob Williamson went shopping in south Georgia and north Florida for property to serve as an outdoor refuge for him and his family.
What he bought was 4,700 acres including Honey Lake Plantation, near Greenville in Madison County, bordering the spring-fed, 80-acre Honey Lake. The plantation was among dozens of Red Hills properties purchased mainly in the early 1900s by wealthy Northerners, who turned their acquisitions into quail-hunting preserves. "I looked at 25 of them, and this was the last one I looked at," he says. "Everything else paled into insignificance."
The land, he says, is "so like a national park, I wanted people to see it." And today, Williamson is $30 million and 20 buildings — with one to go — into creating Honey Lake Plantation Resort and Spa, a retreat for weddings, conferences, horseback riding, kayaking, hunting, sport-shooting and spiritual rejuvenation.
Williamson's life story is the stuff of made-for-TV movies. "I was an alcoholic by 13, addicted to meth and heroin, kicked out of the military, homeless, penniless, in and out of jail." A nurse at the hospital where he was treated after an auto accident at age 22 brought him books, including a Bible. He read it, he says, intending to find fault, but instead experienced a religious conversion. "I decided what I wanted to do was turn my life around."
In the years since, Williamson has started and run 11 companies, in manufacturing, wildlife hunting and art supplies, publishing and software development, earning him Inc. 500 recognition and media attention along the way.
The plantation resort, to be completed by October, will be good for the economy and help expose people to Florida's natural beauty, he says. "A lot of people don't realize the beauty of live oaks and Spanish moss and flowing fields of native grasses and longleaf pines and cypress swamps."
Williamson has just one more building to complete before his 4,700-acre retreat is ready for visitors.