Virginia Williams, D.C.'s 'First Mother,' Dies at 87

James Wright | 1/23/2014, 11:15 p.m. | Updated on 1/27/2014, 4:22 p.m.
Virginia Hayes Williams, the "First Mother" of D.C. who endeared herself to city residents with her dedication to her son, ...
Virginia Williams, mother of former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams Photo by Shevry Lassiter

Virginia Hayes Williams, the "First Mother" of D.C. who endeared herself to city residents with her dedication to her son, former District Mayor Anthony A. Williams, and her gift of singing, died recently in Los Angeles.

Williams announced Thursday, Jan. 23 that his mother passed away at 87 after after a brief illness.

"My mother was a great joy in my life, and she had a huge impact on the District," he said. "She was an incomparable performer on stage, but her real performance was in the service to the children and the families of the city."

Virginia Williams, a longtime resident of Los Angeles, parented eight children, including Anthony, whom she adopted. While working as a professional singer and postal worker, she sent all of them to college.

Williams distinguished herself as a classical vocalist, appearing on soundtracks for films such as "Porgy and Bess" and "Carmen Jones."

She participated in politics in Los Angeles, serving as a volunteer in 1973 in the historic effort to elect Thomas Bradley as mayor and eventually running for city council herself.

When Anthony Williams announced his candidacy for mayor in 1998, she stood beside him during his announcement in Petworth in Northwest. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) said that Williams became an accepted part of District life during and after her son's two terms as mayor.

"Although Mrs. Williams lived much of her life in Los Angeles, she quickly became an institution in the District's civic and political life," Gray said. "I had the great pleasure of knowing and working with her in both my personal and professional capacities, including working with her on my first mayoral campaign. The District of Columbia has been immeasurably enriched by her life, and we are thankful for her legacy even as we are saddened by her loss."

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said that Virginia Williams had multiple talents and great energy. James Short, a former executive in the District's fire and emergency medical services department, said that Virginia Williams helped her son's public persona tremendously.

"She was a great ambassador for the city," Short said. "She was a mother figure to many in the city and she did the best that she could. A lot of people did not care for her son and sometimes they would lash out at her for that but she never retaliated."

Ethel Delaney Lee, a longtime Ward 4 political player, said that Williams fit right into the District's political and social life.

"I think she was accepted by people here simply because she was the mother of the mayor," Lee said.

E. Faye Williams, the national chair for the National Congress of Black Women in Southwest, said that Virginia Williams enjoyed her role as the mother of the District mayor.

"She always showed up at events and was ready to sing," Williams said. "People appreciated it because you did not have to pay her. I will say that she did play her part as 'first mother' very well."

Michael Fauntroy, a Howard University political scientist, said that women such as Williams played a key cultural role in the city's black life.

"When I think of Mrs. Williams, I think also of [late D.C. Council member] Hilda Mason, who was the 'grandmother of the world,'" Fauntroy said. "In their maternal roles, they are not important but they are an extension of our community and of who we are as a people."

An aide to Anthony Williams, who is the executive director of the powerful Federal City Council in Northwest, said that memorial services had not yet been finalized.