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A humble champion: Terry Williams crosses over

Published as part of the February 13, 2013 edition. Last updated February 19, 2013.

A humble champion: Terry Williams crosses over
Terry Williams was more than a coach, more than a record-setting runner in high school and college. He was known as a servant to the community, particularly young people. (Photos: Courtesy of the Williams family)

Frost Illustrated Staff Report

FORT WAYNE—The city lost an extraordinary, yet humble, champion when Coach Terrance “Terry” Williams departed this life on Monday, Feb. 4.

Born March 29, 1944 in Omaha, Neb., Williams made a mark early in life as a track and field star at Omaha Central High School. There, he set numerous records in various events, some of which still stand and will never be broken. For example, Williams ran a blistering 20.9 in what was then the 220 yard dash—three feet, 11 inches longer than the current 200 meter dash—and on a cinder track. Given the now extraordinary circumstances under which it was set, that record, set in 1962, will stand forever.

Williams continued his stellar career at Omaha University but it was off the field that he reached another milestone moment in his life. It was there he met the former Bettie L. Babb who would become the love of his life and, in 1964, would become his wife. Four years later, after a successful college career, Williams and his wife would move to Fort Wayne where he would make an indelible mark on the fabric of the community. Along the way, he earned tryouts with the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears football teams, but according to his wife, Bettie Williams, he decided to pursue a different life path.

“He didn’t actually stay there and make the teams because, for whatever reason, he decided he didn’t want to do that. That was in the ’60s,” she explained.

Instead, he decided to concentrate on his family, getting a job and being there for them. Although working for GTE/Verizon for 39 years before retiring in 2011 and actively raising a family with wife Bettie, Terry Williams never lost his love for track and field and worked hard to share that love and life-lessons learned from the sport with others. He first went to work at the old Kiwanis Branch YMCA in Fort Wayne’s Westfield neighborhood, working with young people coaching basketball and supervising other athletic activities. At Terry Williams’ homegoing service, held Feb. 9 at Turner Chapel AME Church, former Westfield resident Melvin Cannon, who was being raised by his grandmother, told of how his grandmother always felt comfortable with him being at the Y when Williams was working. Cannon spoke of how Williams served as a father figure to him and other boys and young men growing up without father figures in the home.

He also recounted that, although competitive, Williams was all about teamwork. Cannon told the story of how he later ended up coaching his mentor on a YMCA team and, how after winning a crucial game in a tournament, Williams gave him the high sign and told him he had done a great job as a coach—even though Cannon had not put Williams in that particular game.

But, said wife Bettie Williams, although her husband followed and played other sports, track and field were always his first love.
For nearly a quarter century, he served as a volunteer coach for a number of youth track clubs, first with the Movers & Shakers Track Club then later with the acclaimed Summit City Striders, serving as an assistant coach under Brother Warren Ford for more than 20 years, she said.

“He loved anything to do with track, she explained. “When the track club was traveling, he was right there.”

The past four years, Williams served as assistant track coach at South Side High School working with dear friend and admirer Thomas “Eddie” Nolan.

Williams’ impact on youth was evidenced at his homegoing by the number of young people who were there—including the entire South Side High School track team—and those young people who spoke of his firm but loving guidance both on the track and in life.

“Two weeks ago I was saddened to hear the news of the passing of a wonderful man, who had coached at South Side High School the past four years,” said South Side High School Track Couch Nolan. “Coach Williams coached sprints with Jermaine Jackson and made an impact right away with the kids. His motto ‘Be the eagle, and rise above it all’ will ring out this season as we dedicate this season in his memory.
“In researching Coach Williams’ accomplishments in his youth, I discovered this man had skills he never talked about,” said Nolan. “For example, he tied the world record in the 60 yard dash in 1964, running 6.0 seconds. He captured three gold medals in the 100 yard dash, 220 yard dash, and running the anchor in the 1600 yard relay. He ran 9.7 in the 110, 20.9 in the 220 anchor split 48.4. He was the only Nebraska schoolboy to break 21 seconds in the 220 in 1962. These are accomplishments he never spoke of being the humble person he was. He was never named to Hall of Fame, but I was able to nominate him after his passing, and he will be considered for the Hall of Fame in Omaha Central in 2014.

“We all celebrated his life last Saturday and will truly miss his wisdom, mentoring and parenting. God has blessed us for Coach Terry Williams,” he said.

Church was another important part of Williams’ life—and another place where he was active.

“He loved going to church,” said Bettie Williams, adding that he especially loved singing with the Seeds of Faith, the praise group at Turner Chapel AME Church. “He was enjoying singing with the Seeds.”
According to his wife, he had always wanted to sing but never had the opportunity to be in a group until he joined the Seeds of Faith.

“His friends had a group in Omaha, but they didn’t let him sing,” she said, smiling at the memory.

Bettie Williams said her husband so loved going to church that he was never late for service and never late for choir rehearsal.

“He was anxious to get to practice and everything,” she said. Sometimes, “he had to scoot me along,” so they both could get to church on time Sunday mornings.

Terry Williams also had a penchant for writing poetry and songs, his sister-in-law Wilma Johnson explained, noting Terry never went anywhere without a pen and paper so he could jot down thoughts that struck him. She shared some of Williams’ writings at his homegoing, including some spiritually themed poetry and songs. But, it was the blues song, “Man Down,” telling the tale of a man who had lost the love of his life and was nothing but a “man down,” that had those in attendance smiling.

Despite all his gifts, everyone who knew him described Williams as a humble man. Although officially in the record book as one of the fastest humans to ever grace this planet, he never bragged or spoke of his own accomplishments. At best, if someone started bragging too much about how fast they were, friends and family said he would never argue but just say, “let’s go” to prove his point where it counted—on the track.

“Servant” was another name people used to describe him. First, relatives said he was always there for family—his wife, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, in-laws. Wife Bettie said her husband was a voice of guidance and reason throughout the family’s day-to-day life.

“He was quiet, but if something was going on and he had an opinion, he would express it in his own way. Even in the family, if something was going on, he could talk to them,” she said. “He was really good at that—getting people to rethink things.”

And, she said, his concern for family was underscored by his actions. Their son Chad Williams owns his own barbershop and Bettie said with all the robberies going on these days, her husband was still protective of their adult son, seeing that he got out of the shop safely on weekend nights.

“[Terry] would go there every Friday and Saturday and wait for Chad to lock up,” she said.

His concern and service extended to others, she said.

“When it snowed, he would shovel not just our walk but half the block on both sides of the streets. He did that every time it snowed,” said Bettie Williams, explaining that her husband felt it was important to help the widows who lived on either side of them and to make sure the vacant property on the street was well-kempt for the good of all in the neighborhood. “He was good about that and blowing leaves in the fall of the year.”

And, he was meticulous even in his yard work.

“He would get every last one of the leaves,” she said with a chuckle.
“I would tease him about standing out there waiting for the leaves to fall so he could catch them right away,” added his sister-in-law Wilma Johnson.

Bettie Johnson summed her husband in this way:
“He was just a good person. He didn’t mind helping somebody—even financially. He would give his last dollar,” she said.

She said her husband likened helping others to running a relay race—he said you had to run your leg of the race to give others a good start, then hand the baton back to them to help them reach their goals.
While many say it is an egregious injustice that Terry Williams has not been inducted to Nebraska’s High School Track and Field Hall of Fame (an oversight people are working to see corrected), Pastor Kenneth L. Christmon of Turner Chapel said the humble champion’s true legacy already is secure.

“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord; therefore, Brother Terry Williams blazed through life with an amazing sense of speed, clarity, and mission to help others to achieve their dreams and aspirations,” said Pastor Christmon. “Even though the accolades that should have been afforded to a man of his achievements eluded him, Terry Williams was a winner in the race toward salvation and heaven! Our community—especially our youth—are better off due to the greatness of Terry Williams.”

Surviving are his loving wife of 48 years, Bettie L. Williams; son, Chad (LaShawnda) of Fort Wayne; daughters, Gina R. (Mark) Williams-Felton of Edina, Minn., Kimberly (Gary) Williams and Shoclynn Williams both of Fort Wayne; mother, Goldie T. White of Fort Wayne; stepmother, Johnnie Williams of Omaha, Neb.; brothers, Marlon Williams of Denver, Colo., Paul Williams of Phoenix, Ariz. and Tracy (Kitty) White of Fort Wayne; 14 grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; sister-in-laws, Wilma Johnson of San Antonio, Texas, Shawn Williams of Chula Vista, Calif. and Dana Hatch of Detroit, Mich.; god-son, Tyree Carr and a host of other relatives and friends. He was preceded in death by his father, James H. Williams, Sr.; stepfather, Arthur White; brother, James H. Williams III; sister, Loleeta Wright; grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Heber Jordan and Mr. and Mrs. James H. Williams, Sr. Funeral services were Saturday, Feb. 9 at Turner Chapel AME, with burial in Lindenwood Cemetery. Arrangements were by Carmichael Funeral Service.

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