Richmond native Willie Williams III passes away at 93

‘He was always involved with trying to move things forward for us as a community and as a people.’ – L. Douglas Wilder

Debora Timms | 3/21/2024, 6 p.m.
Willie Williams III’s life reflected unlimited service and leadership in the Richmond community. Born July 31, 1930, Mr. Williams left …
Mr. Williams

Willie Williams III’s life reflected unlimited service and leadership in the Richmond community. Born July 31, 1930, Mr. Williams left this life on Saturday, March 16, 2024, at the age of 93.

He met his wife of 42 years, Jean T. Williams, through a mutual friend, Charlie Taylor. That introduction brought the couple and their two families together. They were married in May 1981.

“It was one of those moments where your spirit moved,” Mrs. Williams shared by phone recently. “I knew the beat of his heart, and he knew the beat of mine.”

She added that, above all else, her husband, known affectionately as Bill, was a family man and a people person.

“He just loved people; he never met a stranger,” she said.

That ability to connect and earn respect was evident even in his days at Armstrong High School, where he served as president of his graduating class in 1947.

“I believe that we had a really outstanding class,” recalled a former classmate who went on to serve as the nation’s first elected Black governor, L. Douglas Wilder. “For him to be selected and elected as our class president shows you how much we thought of him. He carried through with that for the better part of his life.”

After high school, Mr. Williams joined the U.S. Navy. His wife said he “broke the ice,” as his enlistment came on the heels of the executive order signed by President Harry S Truman on July 26, 1948, that desegregated the military.

“I have a lovely photo of him from Great Lakes Naval Station. He is one of maybe five Black men in the rows of hundreds,” Mrs. Williams said. “He loved being in the military.”

When Mr. Williams retired from the Navy after 20 years as an operations specialist and training administrator, he went on to attend Richmond Business College and then became a special agent with Prudential Life Insurance Company. During his time with Prudential, he became part of the Million Dollar Roundtable, an independent trade association that recognizes high-performing agents and standards of excellence in the industry.

His final business pursuits were spurred on by his love for childhood summers spent at the shore in Avalon, N.J.

“He and his family worked in a restaurant there and he developed a love for it,” Mrs. Williams explained. “That experience was part of his starting Flamingo Restaurant & Lounge.”

He ran the business for more than 20 years with the support of family. The couple also bought a travel business and operated American World Tours for 28 years.

“[Flamingo] was the meeting place for the Black community,” Mrs. Williams said. “There was not a Black politician in Richmond that didn’t utilize those facilities.”

Gov. Wilder added that Mr. Williams also recognized not everyone had the money to rent a facility.

“He made [Flamingo] available for civic meeting and discourse ... often not charging,” he remembered. “He was part of the community.

He was always involved with trying to move things forward for us as a community and as a people.”

He also served as a leader in the community as is evidenced by his involvement with a range of organizations throughout his life, starting with his connection to his home church, Sharon Baptist Church.

“He always told me about how his grandma raised him since the age of 2,” Mrs. Williams said. “She took him to Sharon Baptist and he always said that would be his church forever.”

A lifelong member, Mr. Williams was a deacon with the church and served for a period as its budget director.

He also was honored in 2003 for “outstanding contribution and leadership” for his service as a past chairman and member of WTVR-TV/CBS 6’s Black Advisory Council (BAC) for 25 years. The BAC was the forerunner of the station’s Community Advisory Council.

Mr. Williams’ list of additional community involvement is long and varied, including being a longtime member and former business manager of the Military Retirees’ Club, a life member and service officer of the Veteran of Foreign Wars, a trustee of the Iota Sigma Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, a former treasurer of Living the Dream, Inc., a past founder and board chairman of the Richmond Economic Development Corporation, and a past president of both the Richmond NAACP and the Richmond Crusade for Voters.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Williams is survived by his four children, Katrina W. Flannigan, Wanda W. Harvey (Gary), Wayne A. Williams and Constance W.B. Washington, as well as a stepdaughter, Cassandra Edwards. He was a grandfather to 12, great-grandfather to 22 and great-great-grandfather to one.

A wake will be held for Mr. Williams from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 26, at Scott’s Funeral Home, 115 E. Brookland Park Blvd.

Funeral services will take place 11 a.m. the following day, Wednesday, March 27, at Sharon Baptist Church, 500 E. Laburnum Ave.