Longtime LGBT community advocate Jannette Williams, who served nearly 25 years as a volunteer and adviser for D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Health and three years as chair of the Whitman-Walker board, died June 28 at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md. She was 65.
Friends said the cause of death was cancer.
A lifelong D.C. resident, Williams worked for the federal government at the U.S. Postal Service and later at the Department of Justice, where she recently retired after 34 years of government service.
Whitman-Walker spokesperson Shawn Jain said Williams first became a volunteer at what was then called Whitman-Walker Clinic in 1991. She served on the clinic’s board from 1996 to 2010 and served as board chair from 2000 to 2002 and 2006 to 2007.
Jain said she had strong ties to the metro D.C. lesbian community; the Mautner Project for Lesbian Health, which later became a program of Whitman-Walker; Whitman-Walker’s Lesbian Resource Center and its Lesbian Services Program.
From 1994 to 1996 she served as president of Whitman-Walker’s Black Lesbian Support Group.
Among her other community involvements, Williams was a longtime supporter and volunteer for D.C.’s annual Black LGBT Pride festival and related events as well as Whitman-Walker’s annual AIDS Walk fundraising drive.
Don Blanchon, Whitman-Walker’s executive director, said Williams was instrumental in recruiting him to his leadership post at Whitman-Walker at a time when she served on the board as the LGBT community health organization was undergoing changes.
“She taught me the most important single lesson that I’ve learned during my time here, which is people from the LGBT community come to Whitman-Walker not just for services but they really come here for dignity, respect and love,” Blanchon said.
“And it’s the most powerful lesson I’ve ever learned, and I’ll never forget it,” he said.
Blanchon said Williams’ leadership role as board chair during and immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks was especially helpful in guiding Whitman-Walker through a period when fundraising efforts for non-profit organizations were adversely impacted.
“She was impactful on people’s lives because she did it relationship to relationship,” Blanchon said. “She really did help individuals navigate – whether they were coming out, whether they needed care, whether they needed peer support, whatever they needed; she did it in the community at the grassroots level. And she did it one person at a time,” he said.
She was predeceased by her parents, James and Creola Williams, her brother James E. Williams Jr. and her twin sister Annette Johnson, according to information provided by family members.
Williams is survived by her son, Robert L. Williams, daughter Dedria Williams, granddaughters Sierra Smoot and Shanelle Scofield; her sisters Dianna H. Walker and Patricia W. Jones; and her cat Sugar. She was the beloved aunt to six nieces and nephews and great-aunt to nine nieces and a nephew.
A viewing is scheduled to be held Friday, July 3, at 10 a.m. at Metropolitan Community Church, 474 Ridge Rd., N.W., in D.C. A service in celebration of her life is scheduled to follow the viewing at 11 a.m.