Deacon Williams' life gave total witness to service
“Take My Hand, Precious Lord” was sung near the end of the funeral Mass Aug. 2 at St. Rita Church in New Orleans for Deacon Everett J. Williams, who died July 28 at age 82.
Deacon Williams, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Xavier University of Louisiana and a doctorate from Michigan State University, was a man dedicated to his Catholic faith and education. And, rarely did he say no.
He was the first African-American to serve as superintendent of Orleans Parish Public Schools and was hand-picked by Peter Quirk to succeed him as chairman of the Archbishop’s Community Appeal in 1996.
Quirk, former executive director of the Catholic Foundation and now executive director of the Office of Stewardship and Development for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, said Deacon Williams was his choice because he knew he could get things done. How did he answer when Quirk phoned him?
“Peter, anything the archbishop (Francis B. Schulte) wants me to do, I will,” Quirk said. “He’s one of those people who comes along who was a constant giver. Everett was always one of those individuals who participated. He attended everything.”
PJP II award was special
Quirk recalled how proud Deacon Williams was to receive the Pope John Paul II award from the Catholic Foundation for his lifetime work as a Catholic.
“I think it’s the greatest award I’ve ever received,” Deacon Williams said after learning he was the recipient. “For the church to recognize me for what I’ve done, that’s the ultimate for me.”
At his funeral Mass, Archbishop Gregory Aymond called Deacon Williams a loving husband, faithful father, a very dedicated educator and very dedicated deacon.
“For all of us who know Everett, he approached those various responsibilities and tasks not as something to be done or endured, for each and every one of those responsibilities he saw as God’s call – a way of living out who he was as a disciple of the Lord Jesus,” Archbishop Aymond said. “He saw it as his way of praising God and using his gifts as a good steward. We come here today to thank him for all he has done.”
Archbishop Aymond encouraged everyone gathered to take just one gift they saw in Deacon Williams and imitate it.
“We will miss this good man with the great smile and hearty laugh,” said Msgr. Christopher Nalty, pastor at Good Shepherd Parish, in the homily.
Deacon Williams worked for many Catholic causes, including serving on the boards of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, Our Lady of Holy Cross College, Xavier University, Notre Dame Seminary, Holy Rosary Academy and St. Joseph Seminary College.
But his service extended beyond the church into the community, serving on the boards of UNITY for the Homeless, Bridge House, Children’s Hospital, the Medical Center of Louisiana, the Blood Center of Louisiana, Baptist Community Ministries, School Leadership Center of Greater New Orleans and the Harvard Urban Superintendent’s Program Advisory Board. He also chaired the Education Committee for the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation.
When he retired from the public schools, he was hired as vice president of community relations for Freeport-McMoran.
Fulfilled his diaconate
His ministry as a permanent deacon had many assignments. After ordination in December 1985, Deacon Williams was appointed to Our Lady of Lourdes in New Orleans.
In 1988, he additionally served as pastoral minister at the Eye Ear Nose and Throat Hospital of New Orleans for three years. From 1998-2001, he shared his diaconate duties with St. Matthias.
It was after Hurricane Katrina that Archbishop Alfred Hughes gave him his last assignment as a deacon and financial administrator at Blessed Sacrament-St. Joan of Arc in 2008. There, he consulted and made everyone feel good, said Josephite Father Charles Andrus, pastor.
“I asked him to go to St. Joan of Arc when he thought he was moving toward retirement,” Archbishop Alfred Hughes said with a laugh. “He was willing to take it, and he brought healing to that community that had been so impacted by (Hurricane) Katrina.”
Archbishop Hughes also recalled Deacon Williams’ way of serving without bringing attention to himself.
“He always served in a self-effacing way,” he said. “He served the people, and they saw the Lord in him.”
Generous to his core
Fellow Deacon Drea Capaci, director of the archdiocesan Family Life Apostolate Office, saw Williams as a generous man.
“He was always interested in helping those in need in every kind of way,” Deacon Capaci said. “He never saw color (of people’s skin) in his ministry. That was a gift that he had.”
“He would bring people together,” said Dr. Rene Coman, former superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans (1998-2004), recalling his days with Williams as assistant superintendent of the Orleans Parish Public School System.
Matthew Proctor, who was deputy superintendent for public schools and later became dean of the College of Education at Southern University New Orleans, concurred that Deacon Williams’ forte was working with people, encouraging young principals to earn advanced education and bringing calm into the school system.
“He was a scholar and he had the common touch,” Proctor said. “He knew how to work with people. Sometimes, when people were wrong or some principals would do the wrong thing, he would straighten them out but not crush them. He always had a feeling for the individuals.”
Deacon Williams leaves behind Melva Williams, his wife of 58 years, daughters Melva and Eileen, and siblings Mary, Kathleen, Ronald and Freddie. He was buried at Lakelawn/ Metairie Cemetery.