Jean Williams Memorial Service

Nancy Petty, Pullen Baptist Church - February, 1, 2018
Raleigh, NC

It is a bit odd that I was associated with the Women’s Center for several years before I ever met Jean Williams.

After retiring in 2001, I was looking for a place to volunteer my handyman skills.  A friend suggested the Women’s Center and put me in touch with Lillie Jones, the housing coordinator.  For the next few years I did repairs and maintenance on several houses the Center owned and used for affordable housing. 

Lillie often mentioned her boss, but it was not until 2005 when I was asked to join the board that I finally met Jean – and from that point a 13-year friendship began to evolve.

Jean and I worked together as the Center went thru the “ups and downs” over the years.  The bad times like when finances were so tight that Jean would not cash her paycheck for several months to make sure other bills could be paid.

The good times like when we moved out of our old space in the basement on Hargett St. (which was periodically flooded) to the building next door where our staff were delighted to have windows in their offices!

The people who knew Jean the best were her staff.  So I asked associate director Jane Tobia for some of her reflections on Jean.  She highlighted the KEY WORDS.

Jean was FEARLESS about most things, including tackling any problem with agency, machines, or equipment. Jean would encourage staff to try to fix broken equipment themselves before calling in the experts. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s already broken.

Jean had a CAN DO attitude – nothing stood in the way for something she believed the agency should do/have/participate in. No issue was too difficult that it couldn’t be attempted. 

Jean was very INCLUSIVE when it came to making sure that all voices were heard on a community issue and that all were able to participate.

Jean was an EXPERT AT ORGANIZING representatives from different agencies into a task-oriented, cohesive, efficient working group.

THE 4 Ps: Jean was positive, patient, persistent, and passionate in working for what she believed in. 

LAUGHTER Jean laughed a lot.

Jean was very hard-working, often staying late and working weekends. Many Sundays after church, I’d see the light on in her office.

Jean was very high energy. Some staff joked about trying to keep up with her…and failing.

LOVE Jean loved people, hugged everyone she met, and treated everyone with exactly the same respect – from our homeless clients to government officials.

CARE AND SUPPORT Jean reveled in taking care of and supporting people – as many family members, staff, and clients can attest. 

I witnessed an example of this:

About a month after Jean had to step down, but when she was still able to travel, she came to the Center for a lunch with the staff. 

In addition to our regular staff, we have women on day-release from the Raleigh Correction Center who work with us. One of these women, with tears in her eyes, said it was only thru Jean’s belief in her and Jean’s support and encouragement that this woman was able to turn her life around. She soon would be released from prison and was going to work.

When we moved into the building next door a few years ago, we talked about changing the name of the Women’s Center to one that would better describe what we do.  With Jean’s passing I am committed to changing the name, as I think staff and board members are.  We haven’t decided on the name, but we have decided that it will be the Jean Williams _______.

Jean was never shy about asking people to give money to the Women’s Center.  So, I’m following her example today and asking all of you for your support – your money, your volunteer time, and your spreading the word to your friends about the good work we do. 

With your support we will continue our work caring for the most vulnerable women in our community – thus carrying on the legacy of this amazing woman we remember today.