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HomeNewsArchivesRenowned Educator Evelyn Williams Dies at 98

Renowned Educator Evelyn Williams Dies at 98

Evelyn Maria Benjamin Williams, a revered St. Croix teacher and administrator whose public education career spanned more than 40 years, and who stayed involved in education and the community for many decades more, passed away Feb. 2 at age 98.

Well-known in the territory, Williams’ passing was mourned by the governor, senate president and delegate to Congress, as well as family and innumerable friends across the territory.

“The Virgin Islands community has lost another one of its treasured matriarchs and icons with the passing of renowned educator Mrs. Evelyn M. Williams,” said Delegate Donna Christensen in a statement. “A dear friend of my late grandmother, Elena L. Christian, Mrs. Williams belonged to a generation of educators who exemplified a passion for the teaching profession and pure devotion to their pupils," she continued. "Mrs. Williams will always be remembered for her warmth, humility and grace.”

"We have lost a giant in the field of education in the Virgin Islands," Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone said in a statement.

Williams’ 41 years of devoted service in the public school and to the youth of her native St. Croix were recognized by the 10th Legislature following her retirement in 1972 and in 1976, when the 11th Legislature named the Estate Mount Pleasant elementary school in tribute to the excellence in education she displayed throughout her distinguished career, Malone said.

"While she has left us in the flesh and her passing bereaves us immensely, the consolation is that she leaves behind thousands of contributing members of society who she positively guided during their youth," Malone said. "Her legacy will last for many generations."

“Mrs. Williams was born before the Virgin Islands was part of America, and her career was dedicated to uplifting the territory through education and passing on the highest values of our people," said Gov. John deJongh Jr. in a statement. "Her accomplishments were many, and her legacy can be measured by the thousands of men and women she educated over her long career. Some were her students; others were notable educators who learned their craft under her leadership in the Department of Education and went on to serve this territory so well themselves,” deJongh said. “She was a woman of deep faith and tremendous compassion who left an indelible mark on the Virgin Islands and its people.”

Her children remembered her lifelong dedication to education and to the community as a whole.

"All her life, she was passionate about education, even late in life when she could not get around as much," said son Douglas Williams, reached Friday afternoon. "She kept a close eye on everything happening with teachers right now and with the curriculum," he said.

Evelyn Williams was born in what is now called Fountain Valley, but was raised in Grove Place, Douglas Williams said.

"At that time, Grove Place was a teeming, active, culturally sensitive community. A lot of good people came out of it," he said.

The family has deep roots in the community, he said, recalling hearing stories from Evelyn Williams about her grandmother at his mother’s knee.

Daughter Janet Lake said education was her mother’s life.

"It started out with a love of books," Janet Lake said Friday, during a momentary pause in preparing for her mother’s funeral Monday.

"She was always searching, always wanting to know more about the world around her," she said. "And she loved exposing people, young or old, to the world of reading she discovered as a child. She read all the time, right up to the end of her life, when her vision was not what it used to be and she had to use a magnifying glass," she recalled. "And she followed the news closely, in the newspapers and on the radio. She followed the presidency. (President Barack) Obama was her favorite. And she was always there if there was a way to help or support someone who wanted to advance themselves and make a difference," she said.

Students kept in touch over the years, calling the house regularly, even decades after her mother retired, Janet Lake recalled.

"She was my first grade teacher at Slob School, a rural school in the 1950s,” she said. “Of course I didn’t like that.

“But I think she had the qualities that allowed her to be a mentor. … She lived with us for four years and over the entire time, calls came in for her," she said. "She never lost touch. … Kids would come by, saying ‘Oh, Mrs. Williams, I have some fish for you.’ Farmers too … She was a generous person and I guess that led them to want to be generous toward her."

Janet Lake’s husband, historian Edgar Lake, recalled her devotion to the community and to education too. "She wrote letters to the school, she followed every pageant on the television for all the schools. She contributed to local foundations. She never retired," Edgar Lake recalled. "Wherever there was social formation, wherever there were people moving toward self-determination, she was at the heart of that," he said. "She used to ride a horse from Grove Place, over the beast (a steep hill on St. Croix’s northern shore) at 5 a.m. every morning to La Vallee to teach. I don’t think you could ask people to do that anymore. These are people who were fiercely for public education," he said.

According to Government House, Williams began her career as a teenager, when she took a temporary teaching position at Diamond Rural School in 1931. In the early 1960s, she earned a Master’s in Supervision and Administration in Elementary Schools from New York University.

Williams served on the St. Dunstan’s Episcopal School board of trustees, the Women’s Organization for the Holy Cross Episcopal Church, the Board of Directors of the Virgin Islands Council of the Arts and the Frederiksted Business and Professional Women’s Association, and other civic and community leadership roles.

She was also the first female senior warden of the Episcopal Diocese of the Virgin Islands.

After retiring as principal of Charles H. Emanuel Elementary School in 1972, Williams went on to serve for a decade on the Virgin Islands Government Employees Services Commission.

A viewing will take place at 9 a.m. followed by a funeral service at 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 11, at Holy Cross Episcopal Church, Estate Upper Love. Interment will be at Kingshill Cemetery, Veterans Section.

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