Mrs. Linda Williams
May 5, 1949 – April 3, 2021
A Celebration of the Life of Linda Williams
Linda Williams, who passed on at 71 years of age, was born in New Haven, Connecticut to civil rights activist Joseph Harris and his wife Alice. The latter remarried and Linda grew up in the household of her stepfather and mother, Frank and Alice Smith. She attended Hillhouse High School, where she distinguished herself as a winner in debate contests and earned honors, thus qualifying for a full scholarship to the University of Connecticut. Her talent for oratory, writing, and persuasion manifested notably at age 14 when she wrote a letter that convinced the decision makers at Olin-Winchester Manufacturing to reverse a layoff decision and keep her father employed; many of his co-workers were not so fortunate as to have such a talented daughter.
While studying at the University of Connecticut, Linda married Judge Gregory Coleman of Philadelphia and bore two daughters, Colandra and Kimberly, both of whom are now high achieving, dynamic professionals. Linda lived in Philadelphia for many years, pursuing both entrepreneurial and academic achievements. She was the sole proprietor of a successful indoor landscaping business that serviced 5 star hotels and other corporate entities, and became known for optimizing the natural enhancement of atrium style architecture. At this time, she also studied sociology at Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania. Her interest in personal growth took her beyond conventional academics, and she studied esoteric philosophy with the Philadelphia Theosophical Society. For athletic development, Linda was an avid student of Kyokushin Karate, a full contact style founded by Mas Oyama. At age 33, Linda returned to Connecticut and worked for Yale University in Woodbridge Hall with the Secretary of the University. Her duties included coordinating the university council, helping with the administrative duties surrounding prestigious fellowships, organizing receptions for V.I.P. guests, and assisting with confidential, internal concerns. From there, she moved on to become an administrator at the Yale School of Management, where she worked closely with White House Economic Advisor, Professor Paul McAvoy, and Professor Theodore Marmor, whom she assisted with speaking engagements and consultation on President and Mrs. Clinton’s single payer plan. Not content with a 9 to 5 schedule, Linda became a frequent guest at special lectures and receptions at the Yale School of Architecture, the Yale School of Art, and the Yale School of Law. To further satisfy her desire for new adventures, Linda took on a part time job as a weekend operating room coordinator at Yale New Haven Hospital.
In 1983, Linda married classical pianist Charles Williams, and they settled in New Haven for several years. She and her husband served as co-captains of their neighborhood block watch and for a time brought greater quiet and safety to the surrounding streets. They moved to Westbrook after their son was born, and Linda continued to work full time while her husband taught, performed, and went back to school to effect a career change. While in Westbrook, Linda headed up a garden project at Daisy Ingraham Elementary School, which received a letter of commendation from First Lady Hillary Clinton. She also served as a den mother for the Westbrook Cub Scouts. Having left Yale to spend more time with her growing son, Linda volunteered to establish a library at Mount Saint John Home and School for Boys in Deep River, Connecticut. She became a champion for the at-risk youth at the school, and initiated programs including reading contests and PSAT and SAT preparation. Linda received the Executive Director’s Award for Outstanding Service and the Saint John Bosco Medal for Service to Youth. Linda’s other community involvements included fund raising for The Children of Chernobyl Relief Fund and public opposition to a proposed raising of the bio-toxic hazard level of virus research at Plum Island. Linda was awarded a fellowship at the University of Virginia to study the roots of the West African slave trade. This also further connected her with her own roots, as she was a descendant of President Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Linda became closely involved with historical research around the Jefferson-Hemings relationship and was invited repeatedly to Jefferson family gatherings at Montecello, where she brought a balanced and reasonable perspective to sometimes strongly divergent opinions. Linda was the sole proprietor of Burgundy Books for 18 years, named after her favorite region of France. She hosted memorable talks, seminars, and receptions with literary luminaries including Frank McCourt, M.J. Rose, Garth Stein, Marcia Clark, and many others. Her store had several locations during its time, including East Haddam near the Goodspeed Opera House, Water’s Edge Resort in Westbrook, and Route One in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. During her time as a bookseller, Linda repeatedly demonstrated an uncanny talent for recognizing who was going to be successful in letters, often being the first to discover, celebrate, and encourage writers whose work later became bestsellers and movies. She recently began the Genius Project, an initiative to support and mentor musically talented youth. A few weeks prior to her passing, Linda and her store were featured on The Today Show by Genna Bush. This year, working quietly in the background, she was asked to be a confidential nominator for the Heinz Foundation Awards. She passed after a long struggle with heart and kidney failure on April 3, 2021. Linda was a devoted wife and mother who cherished time spent with family. In addition to all her creative and professional interests, she was a loving mother and a great friend to Colandra, Kimberly, and her late son, Morgan. She shared a tapestry of beautiful memories throughout the lives of people she loved. A lighthearted woman, she had a loving and gentle nature with a great sense of humor, which often manifested through her talents in puppetry. Linda was a lifetime lover of knowledge and an advocate for marginalized people everywhere. She was an avid animal lover and an expert gardener who enjoyed traveling, fine cuisines, books, and movies. She will always be fondly remembered for her love and laughter that filled the room.
Linda’s place of worship was the Temple of Eck in Middlefield, Connecticut. In addition to her husband, Charles Williams, she is survived and will be dearly missed by the following:
Godson: Cristopher Guzman of Westbrook Daughters: Colandra Coleman-Webster and her husband, Joseph Webster, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Kimberly McKie and her husband, Gerald McKie, of Telford, Pennsylvania Brother: James Smith of New Haven, Connecticut Sister: Janet Atwell and her husband, Michael Atwell, of Palm Bay, Florida Grandchildren: Derek Giles, Anthony McKie and Brandon McKie Great Grandchildren: Dallas Morgan Giles Nieces and Nephews: Kwame Grier, Aleesha Grier-Rogers, Nicole Allston, Hamisi Grier, Jamilia Grier-Djordjevic, DeNisha Allston, Rashid Grier, Adam Smith, Errol Nisbeth Jr. and Shalice Nisbeth. Dear friends, neighbors, wild birds, and special pets Linda was also predeceased by: Son: Charles Morgan Williams of Westbrook, Connecticut Father and Mother: Frank and Alice Smith of Cheshire, Connecticut Brothers: Albert Smith and John Smith of New Haven, Connecticut Sister: Cindy Nisbeth of New Haven, Connecticut
Linda Williams’ family would like to express their deep gratitude to the Swan Funeral Home staff for their wonderful care and to Linda’s friends and neighbors for their many acts of kindness and support during her illness, and to the Old Saybrook Police Department, whose vigilance and kindness were unwavering and ready to help with even the slightest concern regarding her well-being. A celebration of life is scheduled for the weekend of May 15th at Hammonassett State Park. The time will be announced on Linda’s Facebook page and on the Burgundy Books Website.