Deacon Tommie Lee Williams, Sr., was born Feb. 17, 1925, in Phoenix, Ariz., and is the second of three children born to Henry Williams of Mississippi, and Maude Williams of Franklin, Ky.
He attended Dumber Elemen- tary School and Phoenix Colored High School (later renamed George Washington Carver High School. At 18, he enlisted in the United States Army and served his country with tours in England, Germany and France. After serving, he returned to Phoenix where he met and fell in love with Miss Leola Poindexter, who also attended Mt. Calvary Baptist Church. They were married in 1948. To this union four children were born: Theola; Phyllis Ann; Tommie Jr.; and Charles Anthony. For 37 years they loved, served, led and excelled at ministry together.
He was employed at Carl T. Hayden Veterans Memorial Hospital where he became a journeyman plumber and steam pipe fitter. He retired after 39 years of service.
He became a charter member of the newly formed, New Home Baptist Church. It was there that this willing young worker began a life of Christian service to the church and religious community. He had been baptized at an early age as a member of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church of Phoenix, where his mother and family attended.
Now a deacon, Williams quickly became known as an energetic, passionate and available young man – with excellent penmanship. This caught the eye of Deacon S.C. Boyer of First Institutional Baptist Church who recruited him to become the secretary for Paradise State Convention Laymen’s Department. Deacon Boyer also encouraged him to attend a National Baptist Convention Laymen’s Meeting in San Francisco, Calif. It was at this meeting that he fell in love with the mission and ministry work of the national organization. He eventually became the general secretary of the Laymen’s Department where he served for more than 24 years helping to build, organize and to formulate many of the missions and ministries of the organization. Through his influence, Arizona joined other neighboring western states to form the Joint States workshop; he served as its coordinator for more than 25 years. The concept of Joint States was adopted and developed throughout the other regions of the United States and is still a cornerstone of the national movement. He also helped to create the very first National Queens Contest, which ran for many years until being reformulated into the Royal Court Contest of today.
As a leader in the Laymen Department, Deacon Williams traveled internationally extensively, participating in World Ministries as an officer of the World Baptist Men’s Alliance. He has conducted and participat- ed in ministries in: Seoul, Korea; Argentina; British Whales; Brazil; and Europe. Deacon Williams also traveled extensively in Africa, where he assisted in renovating churches, homes, and buildings, developing Christian leaders, programs, processes and Christian education missions throughout the continent, including: Liberia; Swaziland; Kenya; Liberia; Malawi; Johannesburg; and East Africa.
The National Laymen honored him by establishing the “Tommie L. Williams” Living Legend Award, presented to outstanding senior laymen who are still engaged in the movement.
Deacon Williams also has been a pioneer in the religious community of Arizona:
• Serving with Paradise Missionary Baptist State Convention as a congress dean, historian, secretary and laymen’s president.
• For the Central District Association, serving as congress of Christin education dean, parent body finance secretary, president of the Laymen’s Department and historian.
• At his beloved New Home Baptist Church, serving as a Sunday School superintendent, financial secretary, brotherhood president, Boys Work instructor, trustee and chair of the Deacon Board.
He is credited with developing, establishing or influencing various programs, and ministries. He is the only layperson in the history of Paradise State Convention and Central District Association to become a vice-moderator of a district association.
Deacon Williams has been a catalyst for ministries and the development of past and current religious leaders today. In his book, A Child Will Lead Them, Rev. Alexis Thomas – then pastor of Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church – personally credited Deacon Williams as one of the major contributors to his early ministry and preaching opportunities. Dr. Warren Stewart, Sr. has often shared his appreciation for the national recommendation Deacon Williams made for him as a lecturer in the Allen Jordan Seminar. Just to name a few. He has touched the lives of many others locally, nationally and internationally.
During his national and international travel and work, he met and fell in love with Rev. Henrietta Byers, who, at the time, worked for World Baptist Conference.
In a wedding ceremony conducted by then National Baptist Convention President Dr. Henry Lyons, the two were married in March 1995 – creating a whole new chapter in his long active life. They enjoyed a very fruitful, active and happy life of service together until her passing Feb. 9, 2016.
In the 1990s, Deacon Williams accepted an invitation from former City Councilman Calvin Goode to help organize an Arizona African-American cultural museum to display, preserve and inform the community about the many contributions Blacks have made to Arizona. Because of his “can do” spirit, passion enthusiasm and willingness to work, he was named president of George Washington Carver High School Alumni Association.
He helped the organization to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from private, state, national and city funding to make this vision a reality. He was a curator for the “Religious Roots” room, which displayed the history and artifacts of many of the early African American churches throughout Arizona.
He was a lifetime member of NAACP and served as chair of Maricopa County NAACP Membership Committee for many years. He was involved with many of its programs and efforts including traveling each year to the NAACP National Conventions and seminars.
Although he had slowed down, he still enjoyed attending the Pecos Senior Center three days a week participating in games, contests and exercise. He loved reading the daily newspaper and was still a wealth of knowledge and information – a source of ideas about the Christian faith and community.
At 97 years old, Deacon Williams had the rare gift of memory. He was still able to recall, recount and recant, dates, people, numbers, events, programs, songs, sermons and names for events and people – from as far back as the 1940s!
Deacon Williams touched the lives of many with his infectious smile, upbeat personality, encouraging words, genuine character, and his concern for others and their successes. He was a dependable servant, a committed leader, and, more importantly, a true soldier for the Lord!
Deacon Williams is preceded in death by: his mother and father Maude and Henry Williams; sisters, Mary E. Stuart and Estelle Ward; daughter Theola Williams; and nephew Jerry D. Harris, Jr.
He leaves to mourn his passing: his children, Deaconess Phyllis Williams, Deacon Tommie L. Williams, Jr. (Tracy), Charles A. Williams (Mary); daughters in love, Minister Shelley Byers, Vicki L. Byers, and Beverly Walker (Kenny); beloved grandchildren, Garrick T. Jackson, Gerald Akim Bell, Warren T. Williams, Sharanique S. Darige (Al), Diamond M. Williams, Taylor S. Morrison (Germi), Sommer A. Williams, Shellante Byers, and James Byers; as well as great-grands, great-great-grands, and a host of nieces, nephews, great grand nieces and nephews, in-laws and friends.
A celebration of life was held Jan. 7, at First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix..