With uplifting spirituals, friends and family paid a nearly four-hour musical tribute to “Momma Williams” at a celebration of life Saturday at one of Virginia E. Hayes Williams’ favorite venues, the Duke Ellington School of The Arts in Georgetown.
Former Mayor Anthony “Tony” Williams and a host of others took the stage to relate to 800+ attendees sometimes humorous, sometimes touching, always true to life episodes in the action-packed life of a woman often hailed as “The First Mother of D.C.” That title stems from her deep involvement with her son’s successful run for mayor.
She had been a hands-on political activist both in Los Angeles, where she helped elect Mayor Tom Bradley, and in D.C., where she was a force in the election campaign of Mayor Vincent Gray and several council members.
She was laid to rest in her hometown of Los Angeles, where she passed away on January 23 after a short illness.
Peggy Cooper-Cafritz, co-founder of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, announced that the Eugene B. Casey Foundation was establishing a $1 million Virginia E. Hayes Williams fund that will award annual financial aid to a junior or senior who excels in the performance field of opera. Mrs. Williams had sung professionally in films (notably, Carmen and Porgy and Bess) and on stage during her lifetime. She especially loved operatic music. One of her proudest moments is when Martin Luther King heard her sing and he requested an encore.
She would have cherished the performances of the Duke Ellington Show Choir, the Washington Performance Arts Society Children of the Gospel Choir, Duke Ellington alum Angeli Ferrett, violinist Nathaniel Heyder, pianist Josephine Riggs, and her granddaughters Erika C. E. Williams and Christian E. Pickett.
Among those paying tribute from the stage were Tony Williams, Mayor Gray, Jan Du Plain, Catfish Mayfield Hunter, Lee Brian Reba, Dorothy and Bill McSweeny, Councilmember Kenyon McDuffie, Dr. Vincent Jones, Frances Buckson, Shirley Haulsey, The Rev. Lewis Anthony, Pat Elwood, Judith Terra, Jessica Williams, Alexandrea Williams, and Lewis Williams.
Tony Williams left the audience laughing when he recalled how one time his mother was driving her huge old beat-up car with him in the passenger seat. She combed her hair. Put on makeup. Beautifying herself for the event they were going to…all the while, looking in the front and rearview mirrors.
Alarmed, he felt the car drifting toward a line. So, he touched the wheel to steer it back on course. “Don’t you ever touch the steering wheel when I am driving,” Momma Williams admonished her son. It was her mission, her car, her pride, her driving. Tony said he never did that again. Momma ruled.
Jan Du Plain recalled when she and Mrs. Williams went to a performance of Gershwin music at Ford’s Theater. The pianist started to play “Summertime” and invited the audience to sing along. Suddenly, he stopped, peered into the darkened audience. One voice, above all others, was beautiful. It was Mrs. Williams’. He invited her up onstage to perform with him. She did, singing every verse of the song…”Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high…”
She received a standing ovation.
Lee Brian Reba, a close friend of Mrs. Williams, brought to the ceremonies multi-colored umbrellas to carry as the procession departed, in remembrance of Momma Williams’ autobiographical book, Living Under God’s Umbrella.
Reba, also noted in his eulogy, the mindset of Momma Williams by saying:
"Mother Williams loved each and every one of you -- she loved all of us, she loved this city. Let's make her proud, and let us honor her life and legacy, by giving more of ourselves each day...after all-- we are all living under God's umbrella. Let us all commit to an act of kindness. Let us all commit to making a difference. Let us all commit to either mentoring a child, helping the homeless, or being there for our seniors."
Gathering on Wednesday to plan the 125th anniversary benefit for the Washington Home & Community Hospices, some 30 well-known supporters told of their love for the institution and praised the care given to friends and family members.
The benefit gala will be at the Italian Embassy on Saturday, April 26 from 6:30 to 9:30 pm Some 300 guests are expected to attend.
The luncheon at The George Town Club was a kickoff event to introduce the host committee to one another. www.thewashingtonhome.org
A famous national figure given care at the hospice was the syndicated Washington Post columnist Art Buchwald. He wrote with sensitivity and humor about his final days as a writing legend.
Overseeing the luncheon were Sharon Casey, chair, board of directors, and Tim Cox, CEO of The Washington Home. Among those who attended were photographer Didi Cutler, interior designer Barbara Hawthorn, Tandy and Wyatt Dickerson, social columnists Donna Shor and Mary Bird, arts activist Judith Terra, PR consultant Jan DuPlain, Harriet Fulbright, widow of the Arkansas senator and statesman, Christine Warnke, Shahin Mafi, Nicole D'Amecourt, Sheila Switzer and Robin Leeds.
Russian classical violinist Rafael Javadov provided the music.
Luncheon hosts noted that the Dickersons celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary on Thursday (March 13). Dickerson is a founder of The Georgetown Club.
It was also brought to the attention of lunch-goers that this week marks the birthday of social photographer-about-town Neshan Naltchayan, who, as always, was on the job snapping people pictures for clients.
The non-profit charity cares for almost 2,500 residents and patients a year, bringing compassionate care to aging, chronically and terminally ill women and men. The home is located at 3720 Upton Street, NW in Cleveland Park.
In the 1800s, the home was a two-room house in the middle of town with no electricity or running water. Water was pumped from a well.
Williams House, co-located with The Washington Home, is the only inpatient hospice unit in DC where patients' acute symptoms are managed so they can return to hospice care in their own homes.
One of my favorite authors is Tom Clancy, whose last book before he passed away was Command Authority, a fictional account of a Russian attempt to invade the Crimea in Ukraine. Of course, characters and circumstances are exaggerated to tell a gripping story. Nonetheless, Clancy, as in so many of his books, seemed to have a crystal ball.
About three years ago during a visit to Black Sea nations, I participated in a tour of the Crimea region.
Although I am from Ukrainian heritage, I had no idea before the trip how much influence Russia has in the Crimean Peninsula. Many street signs were both in Russian and Ukrainian. Both languages were spoken.
I asked the guide why Russian signage was not removed when the Soviet Union broke up. She just smiled enigmatically and shrugged. We instantly got the idea that it wasn't over.
Crimea has changed hands many times, most recently when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev turned the peninsula over to Ukraine, then a Soviet Socialist Republic. When the Soviet Union broke up, Ukraine, including Crimea, became independent.
On our stops, we saw examples of war, revolution, and military strength from four eras:
- In Sevastopol, we saw Russian naval ships docked, under a lease agreement, in the home port of Russia’s Black Sea fleet. We watched a crew on deck getting a morning briefing.
- In Yalta, we visited the site of the still controversial meeting among Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. Often called the Yalta Conference, it was held to discuss Europe’s post-World War II reorganization, the results of which ultimately led to the Iron Curtain. At that time, Yalta was in Russia.
- In Odessa, we were fortunate to be on hand for a film festival. We sat on the Potemkin Steps with hundreds of local young people for a screening of Battleship Potemkin, a masterpiece 1925 silent film about a 1905 Russian naval mutiny and resulting street demonstrations that brought on a police massacre, some of it on the very steps where we watched the film. The mutiny against the Tsars is sometimes described as a harbinger of the Russian Revolution 12 years later.
- In the countryside outside Sevastopol, we saw the actual Valley of Death into which British troops charged Russian artillery during the Crimean War. The clash, with its horrendous British casualties, was made famous in The Charge of the Light Brigade, the Alfred, Lord Tennyson poem about the 1854 Battle of Balaclava.
As you read and view news about this current global hot spot, keep in mind its long and checkered history. One perspective comes from Alla Rogers, a Georgetown resident who was born in Germany after her parents were taken from Ukraine as forced labor. Her Alla Rogers Gallery on 31st Street in Georgetown has featured art from Ukraine and other former Soviet bloc countries. She puts it this way:
“Ukraine has the right to be a sovereign, democratic nation as guaranteed by its own constitution and as ratified in international treaties. Its courageous dead throughout history were willing to pay the ultimate price for this privilege. May we honor their memory and understand that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. May we support one another when these aspirations are threatened.”