Arthur Leon Williams, 86, teacher, administrator in city's public schools

April 16, 1997|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

It was unthinkable for Arthur Leon Williams to miss a day of school or to be late.

During his 42-year career as a teacher and administrator in Baltimore public schools, Mr. Williams never took a vacation and used only 27 sick days -- when he broke a hip in 1954.

Mr. Williams died of pneumonia April 2 at Northwest Hospital Center in Randallstown. He was 86 and had lived in Randallstown.

As principal of Elmer Henderson Elementary School in East Baltimore, "Pop" Williams commuted by bus (he didn't drive), arriving on school days at 7 a.m. and leaving at 7 p.m. On Saturdays, he slept in and arrived at school at 9 a.m.

"He wanted to make sure the gym was open for the kids to play in [on Saturdays]," said his niece, Jo Ann Williams of Baltimore. "It was important to him that the kids in the area had something to do and somewhere to go."

Mr. Williams never married and considered his students "his children," said Charles Overton, a former student.

"It was like his time was our time, and he wanted to spend every minute with us," Mr. Overton recalled. "He was tireless. The thought of never taking a vacation didn't even occur to him because he was content making sure things were right with the students."

Each day during the summer, when the school was closed, Mr. Williams would open the gym in the morning and set up activities for area youngsters.

Ms. Williams said he knew the youngsters had nowhere else to go. "Their income level couldn't even allow them to go to Druid Hill Park, so he wanted to make something accessible to them," she said.

A native of Northwest Baltimore, Mr. Williams graduated from Douglass High School in 1928. He earned a teacher's certificate from Coppin Normal School in 1931 and a bachelor's degree from Morgan State College in 1934.

He received a master's degree from New York University in 1946 and later did post-graduate work at Loyola College of Maryland and the University of Pennsylvania.

He began his career in education in 1932 as a teacher at a West Baltimore elementary school and in 1948 became a vice principal. He was named principal at Elmer Henderson Elementary in 1954 and retired in 1974.

After he retired, Mr. Williams worked as a volunteer in the library at the Community College of Baltimore until 1984.

Mr. Williams was a modest man who avoided the limelight.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan invited him to a White House luncheon for volunteers, but Mr. Williams was not thrilled.

"He told them he couldn't go because he didn't have any transportation, so they said they'd send a car for him," Ms. Williams recalled.

The lifelong bachelor still refused the invitation and asked that the president send him his certificate.

"They said then that it would be a good chance for a photo op for him with the president," Ms. Williams said. "He said he didn't need a photo op because he wasn't running for anything and he didn't go."

Mr. Williams, who was a former board member of the Druid Hill YMCA, was a parishioner of Trinity Baptist Church in West Baltimore for 77 years and its Sunday school superintendent for 35 years.

A stickler for punctuality, he made sure all his church meetings started and ended as scheduled.

Once, after a group of young men repeatedly came late to church, he gave each a watch at Christmas and told them: "An educated man should never be late for anything."

Services were held April 5.

He is survived by two nephews, Arthur R. Williams of Randallstown and Stephen W. Williams Jr. of Ellicott City; and another niece, Edith Williams Howard of Columbia.

Pub Date: 4/16/97

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