Frances Williams, 83, of Roanoke, Va., a lifelong educator and retired principal of G. W. Childs Elementary School in South Philadelphia, died Tuesday, July 21, of a stroke at her home in Roanoke.
A 30-year employee of the School District of Philadelphia, Mrs. Williams was the first Black cluster leader at Audenreid magnet schools and a longtime champion of public school leadership.
She was a graduate of Hampton and Pennsylvania State Universities and wanted to be an educator even before she went to middle school. Her niece, Renea Taylor, loves to tell the story of when Mrs. Williams and Taylor’s mother, Ruth, played with their dolls as children.
“My mother would line up her dolls, and be the mother to them,” Taylor said. “My aunt would line up her dolls, and be the teacher.”
The oldest of three children, Mrs. Williams was born to James Sr. and Pearl Prunty on Nov. 1, 1936. She went through the Roanoke public school system, graduated from Hampton, and earned her master’s degree in education at Penn State. She moved to Philadelphia after graduation when she got a job as a speech pathologist at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
She started her long career with the Philadelphia public schools as a speech teacher and eventually moved to leadership roles. During her time as principal at Childs, the school won recognition for its academic excellence and programs.
“All she ever wanted to do was teach,” her niece said. “She was an avid reader. Her favorites were mystery novels and suspense thrillers. She was just a wonderful person.”
As a principal, Mrs. Williams was adept at mentoring aspiring school administrators and teachers as they sought leadership positions. She focused on personal growth as a way to succeed in the workplace and studied leadership at programs at Harvard University and local colleges. For her efforts, Mrs. Williams was honored by, among others, the Christian Street YWCA and the Chapel of the Four Chaplains.
After she retired, Mrs. Williams was a consultant with Philadelphia and Delaware charter schools. She also was elected to the board of directors for the Philadelphia Public School Retired Employees Association. When she wasn’t working, Mrs. Williams and husband Alfonzo loved to travel, taking journeys to such places as Africa, Japan, and Egypt.
Mrs. Williams enjoyed the theater and community activities. She was a 64-year member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority at Hampton and took on numerous positions of leadership with the Philadelphia chapter, Omega Omega, in the late 1960s.
Mrs. Williams was a devoted member of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia, and later became an honorary member of Pilgrim Baptist Church in Roanoke.
She was a whiz at crossword puzzles and always carried a pencil in case she came across one. She even solved them in ink sometimes. She loved to talk about vocabulary and looked for word puzzles of all kinds to keep her mind alert.
“Her brain was always working,” her niece said. “She wanted to keep her analytical skills sharp.”
In a coincidence her niece pointed out as somewhat comforting, both Mrs. Williams and her sister, Ruth, died on the same date, July 21. Her sister died in 1987.
In a tribute, friends and colleagues remembered Mrs. Williams for ”her generosity, eagerness to help, loyalty, humor and grace.”
In addition to her niece, Mrs. Williams is survived by brother James, three nieces, one nephew, and many other relatives. Her husband and a sister died earlier.