- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2014


She was a wife, mother of eight, grandmother and great-grandmother.

She was a civic and political activist, one of those giver-backers of America’s “Greatest Generation.”

She trusted and exercised her faith, and used her do-the-right-thing and can-do attitudes to bridge generational and racial divides.

And, as a songbird, she lent her classical voice to the film soundtracks of “Carmen Jones” and “Porgy and Bess.”

Who was she?

She was Virginia Elizabeth Hayes Williams, and she died Thursday at age 87 back in Los Angeles following a brief illness.

Born in Kentucky, Virginia herself was adopted as a ‘tween and was reared in New Jersey. She studied music here in segregated Washington, where she sang for then-first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

No fool, Virginia realized her voice had a future, and she moved to Los Angeles, allowing her to record with Ray Charles and make off-camera appearances in such films as “Porgy and Bess” and “Carmen Jones.”

Her practical side kicked in, too: With “no place for black women in opera,” as she once put it, Virginia got a job at the postal service, married and began raising a family.

She still used her voice in many a venue, including singing while working as a postal clerk and campaigning for Tom Bradley when he ran for L.A. mayor.

Indeed, by the time adopted son Anthony “Tony” Williams had decided to make a run for D.C. mayor, his mother was right at his side.

She easily and quickly donned the endearing title “First Mother,” and, as she had done in L.A., advocated school reform and better parks and recreation programs for every generation who utilized them.

She also began bridging another gap — the literacy gap — encouraging parents, and the business and nonprofit sectors to stomp out illiteracy.

It was on that bridge, in elementary schools and other forums across the city, where “First Mother” Virginia — “Other-Mother Virginia,” as I called her — and I leaned on each other and others.

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