OTTAWA - The air force colonel charged with two murders and two sexual assaults this week was "calm, hardworking and dedicated" and his former boss considered him one of the military's best and brightest.
Col. Russell Williams, 46, of Tweed, Ont., was arrested Sunday in Ottawa. He's been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of two women and with the sexual assaults of two others.
Williams was "very intelligent, very mature, very calm, hardworking and dedicated - which is exactly why we selected him to be a wing commander," said retired lieutenant-general Angus Watt, the former air force chief who appointed Williams to his last military job.
"He had the potential to go far. He was selected both on his performance and his potential."
Williams was amassing all the right stuff in his resume to pave the way to bigger and better things, including Watt's old job.
He received a degree in economics and political science from the University of Toronto, and a master's in defence studies from Royal Military College.
He spent two years commanding 437 (Transport) Squadron in Trenton, including six months in 2005-06 as commanding officer of the military's secretive Camp Mirage, a logistics base on the Arabian Gulf that supplies the war effort in Afghanistan.
Williams was a flight instructor in Moose Jaw, served at Canadian Forces Base Shearwater in Nova Scotia and spent most of the 1990s in Ottawa, where he was a pilot to the prime minister and Governor General before Watt ultimately handed him command of the country's largest air force base, CFB Trenton in eastern Ontario.
Trenton is a hub of Air Command activity, the sprawling air base from which troops leave for Afghanistan and to which they return when their tours end, sometimes in coffins.
Located midway between Toronto and Ottawa, the 80-year-old airfield is also a major search-and-rescue base and the site from which Haitian earthquake aid is staged.
"This didn't pop up overnight, this job for him," Watt said in an interview Tuesday. "He's been in the military for 23 years; we've watched him over the course of his career in a wide variety of jobs.
"He's been tested before and that is why he was selected."
While they were never personal friends, Watt got to know Williams better in recent years when the then-lieutenant-colonel worked under Watt leading the procurement of Trenton's new fleet of CF-130J Hercules transports and giant C-17 Globemaster strategic-lift aircraft.
The selection process for a job like Trenton is conducted by a board made up of generals from across the country, which is convened annually to review candidates for air force appointments.
The generals hand the air force chief a list of recommendations after an "extensive file review." That review does not typically include a psychological assessment, said Watt, who retired in October after 37 years in the military.
Williams was promoted colonel early last year while on a six-month French-language training course in Gatineau, Que. He assumed command of CFB Trenton and its main component, 8 Wing, last July 15, calling these "exciting times for the air force."
John Williams, the unrelated mayor of Quinte West, an amalgamated municipality of 42,000 which includes Trenton, spoke to the colonel weekly and exchanged emails with him often.
He said Tuesday "everybody has a different personality in that job. Some are more outgoing."
"He wasn't an outgoing person - fairly quiet in that sense and hard to get close to, you know. Not a warm, kibitzing-type thing."
Conversations were for the most part strictly business without a lot of personal exchange, the mayor said.
But when one of the colonel's alleged victims - Jessica Lloyd, 27, of Belleville, Ont. - was reported missing, CFB Trenton and its commander offered help.
A base rescue helicopter joined the search Jan. 30, two days after Lloyd disappeared.
Watt said he had no reason to believe Williams wouldn't ascend further up the military ladder. The next step would have been brigadier-general.
"There's no guarantees," Watt said. "It all depends on how well you do. Every job is both an opportunity and a test. It's an opportunity to show what you can do and also a test to make sure that you can do it.
"However, we generally don't accept people for jobs like that who we think are not going to succeed. It is just too critical a job. . . . It's not viewed as a training position; it's viewed as a key component of air force operations."
In other words, it is not "a tick mark in the box" on the fast track to career advancement, he said.
Williams would have been expected to succeed at the challenging job for two years, then serve at least another two years in a senior staff position and likely go on a course before he would have been considered for brigadier-general.
Nevertheless, when asked if Williams had the potential to command the air force, Watt's response was an unequivocal "yes."
Watt's successor as air force chief, Lt.-Gen. Andre Deschamps, has said an interim commander would soon be appointed at Trenton and a review conducted to "determine the most appropriate action to take regarding Col. Williams pending the outcome of the trial."
Watt said the air force community was shocked and "astonished" at the news of Williams' arrest.
"We would hope that people would view this - if he is found guilty - as the actions of an individual and not condemn the institution.
"This is highly unusual; I've never seen anything like this in my career."
Williams' wife, Mary Elizabeth Harriman, is the associate executive director of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. Officials from the foundation have said Harriman was taking an extended leave. They described her as one of their most beloved staff members.
The couple was reportedly building a home in Ottawa.
"A keen photographer, fisherman and runner, Col. Williams and his wife Mary Elizabeth are also avid golfers," said a biography which had, until Tuesday, been posted on the Defence website.