Williams named Citizen of the Year
by Paige Rentz
For her host of good works, The Jacksonville News has named Pearl Williams Citizen of the Year.

Williams’ community outreach ranges from providing opportunities for young citizens to running substance abuse support groups, from providing scholarships for college students to organizing a patriotic memorial to her son and other service men and women.

Last spring, the Jacksonville Exchange Club honored Williams with its Book of Golden Deeds award, including $500 to further the work of her non-profit ministry, the House of Refuge.

At the time, Williams told the Jacksonville News that through the House of Refuge, she offers teenagers in the community opportunities for field trips, job fairs and career planning, and workshops on a range of issues such as bullying, conflict resolution, teen pregnancy and alcohol and drug abuse.

“I try to work with their mind, spirit and soul to help them become better individuals,” Williams said then.

Williams lost her eldest son, Maj. Dwayne Williams, on Sept. 11, 2001, when hijackers flew a plan into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. In her son’s memory, Williams hosts a ceremony each year at the Jacksonville City Cemetery to foster healing and remembrance on the anniversary of that tragic day.

Mayor Johnny Smith said the annual Sept. 11 ceremony adds to the community. “It does give back to the city because all the military folks get honored,” he said. “It’s a way to honor a lot of different folks.”

Williams said at this year’s ceremony that stopping each year to remember what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, is key for Americans to “realize what we’re facing. There’s some challenges ahead of us. If we come together the way we did 9/11, we can survive.”

Williams also honors her son’s memory each year through scholarships for Jacksonville State University students.

This year, Williams awarded four $500 scholarships — which are matched by the university — to students in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, two $600 scholarships to students in the College of Business, and the Major Dwayne Williams Citizenship Award — a $1,000 scholarship to a Jacksonville High School senior to attend JSU.

“Scholarships make education attainable for those who otherwise might not be able to attend,” said Melanie Delap, Director of Advancement Services at JSU. She said that most students use a pool of financial aid awards, so every scholarship helps make college attainable.

Jacksonville University President Bill Meehan said Williams is “very generous and community minded; we’re very glad to have her as a part of JSU.”

Meehan worked with Williams in the admissions office in the mid-1970s, he said, adding that Williams went on to finish her academic work and became a police officer on the university police force.

City Councilwoman Sandra Sudduth has known Williams since high school, she said.

“She’s a hard worker, and when she gets an idea that she want to enforce, she will stick with it no matter what,” Sudduth said of Williams. “She makes sure she fulfills whatever she has in mind to do.”

One such project, said Sudduth, was bringing Regional Medical Center’s health bus to town. At the time, residents could go to the mobile clinic and get free screenings for such indicators as blood pressure and cholesterol.

Williams’ determination, said Sudduth, is what makes her so successful.

“If she has an idea of doing something, she really is involved in it” Sudduth said. “She doesn’t give up on things, even if she’s the only one, she’s going to keep going.”
© 2013