Donald A. Williams, Colonel USAF, retired, aged 89, died at home on July 13 after a brief illness, with his beloved wife Brenda and his family by his side.
A 12th generation North Carolinian, he grew up in Windsor, and was dedicated to his home state and to UNC, his alma mater. Throughout his distinguished military career he returned often. He retired to civilian life in Chapel Hill.
Col. Williams had the spirit of a true patriot. Besides service to God, service to country was his highest calling. He was modest about his extraordinary accomplishments. Barely 20 years old, he flew 37 B-17 combat missions over Europe with the 388th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force, losing many companions along the way. He was awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart, and the Legion of Merit. After the war he returned to UNC and completed law school, then re-entered the Air Force as a flight instructor and Staff Judge Advocate. He graduated with honors from both the Air War College and George Washington University’s Master’s program. His last Air Force position was as USAF Chief Appeals Court Judge. After he settled in Chapel Hill in 1971, he practiced as an attorney until recently, especially enjoying de-mystifying obtuse legal language, and working with the elderly in creating wills, trusts, and donations.
Col. Williams was a highly principled man, which he saw as nothing more than what is required of every responsible person. He lived his principles out in action: fairness to counter injustice, persistence to counter cynicism, honesty to counter deceit, and generosity to counter selfishness. In his civilian life in Chapel Hill, these values were demonstrated in his respect for his clients, and in his work with many charitable organizations and boards, such as Carol Woods, IFC, the Ewing Foundation, ACCESS, Strowd Roses, and Hospice. He served the Chapel of the Cross as Vestryman, lay reader, and Treasurer.
Col. Williams played tennis and soccer with gusto, and established teams in these sports at several of the Air Force bases where he was stationed. He was a co-founder of Rainbow Soccer. A member of the Chapel Hill Tennis Club, he played well past his 89th birthday. He loved to sail in Pamlico Sound. He also enjoyed travel, and had a special fondness for Scotland, where he was stationed in the 50’s. He learned languages quickly: Japanese when he was with occupying forces, French to help train French pilots, Portuguese before assigned to the Azores in the mid-60’s, and Spanish from his posting in San Antonio. At family birthday parties he would bring out his harmonica and serenade the honoree with Las Mañanitas.
In addition to his wife Brenda, Col. Williams is survived by his sister Ray Betts of Charlotte and brother Jack Williams of Franklin, VA; his daughter Laurie W. Van Loon and husband Eric of Concord Massachusetts; his son Keenan Williams and wife Lisa Townsend of Pittsboro (Laurie and Keenan’s mother was Betty Williams, deceased); his grandsons Adam and Robin Van Loon; and Cameron, Jordan, and Aiden Williams; and his great-grandson Arden Van Loon. He is also survived by 3 step-children: Laurie Hamrick of Charlotte, John Sanders of Black Mountain, and David Sanders of CH; and four step-grandchildren: Jillian Hamrick, Megan Hamrick and Carson Hamrick, and Christopher Sanders.
A memorial service will be held at the Chapel of the Cross on Saturday July 27 at 11 a.m. Contributions in his memory should be made to the Interfaith Council of Chapel Hill and the Nature Conservancy, NC chapter.