“Bittersweet” is the only word I can think of to describe the passing of former Athens Mayor Dan Williams, who was also currently serving us in the Alabama State House of Representatives. He fought a brutal and brave war against cancer, and on the morning of July 1, 2015, he slipped away. He is suffering no more, and eternity has begun for him. Much has already been said about his public and military service, his life as a family man, his ability to tell a yarn, and to strum a guitar. I have heard tales of campfires that were legendary for their laughter.
There are many in the area who knew him their whole lives, and while I understand the sharp grief of a small town which has lost one of its longstanding public servants, I would like to talk about Dan from the perspective of only having been in Alabama since the year 2000.
When we first moved here, and websites were still relatively new, as the Mayor he would post the most endearing and comfortable details of life here. He’d talk about the kids and grandkids, BBQ, sitting on the front porch in the summertime, and he made me feel at home, even though at that point I had never met him.
I got to know him mostly from Coffee Calls at the Vets’ Museum, and then he hired me to write some articles for him when he decided to run for the District 5 seat. It was there that I got a deeper glimpse of his heart, and there are two stories about choices that he had made that I will never forget. I would like to share them with you.
One was when he stood up on the House floor in Montgomery, and confronted what I have come to call reverse racism. One of his grandchildren is adopted, and is African American. Representative Alvin Holmes of Montgomery made the inflammatory statement that “99 percent of the whites who are sitting in here now, if their daughter got pregnant by a black man, they are going to make their daughter have an abortion.” Dan stood up and challenged him by saying, “I have a black grandchild running around my house, and I love him just like I love the rest of my grandkids.” I would have loved to have been there for that, and am proud both that he supported his son and daughter-in-law in their decision to adopt the child, and standing up for the truth that all kids are worth loving.
He was no stranger to controversy while serving in the House. He voted for Carly’s Law, the bill that would allow for the medical use of an oil form of marijuana to help reduce seizures experienced by children with a rare form of epilepsy. He was not for the bill at first, but it was spending 20 minutes face to face with a mother whose child suffered from up to 300 seizures per month that changed his mind.
“Ali,” he said, “It shook me up. I can’t imagine going through that with one of my children or grandchildren.” Dan, we are shook up, because life in Athens just won’t be right without you. But, we are people of faith, and we have the deep hope that we will see you again. If there are campfires in heaven, then I have just one request: save me a seat next to you on the log while you strum your guitar.