Joseph Perry Williams Sr., Vietnam veteran, husband, father, grandfather and uncle, passed away March 23, 2021, following a long illness. He was 87.
Known to friends and family as “Buddy,” Joe was born in Havre de Grace, Md., the son of Harry and Mary Williams and the fifth of their six children. Although he grew up amid segregation in small-town Maryland, Joe became part of history: He was among the first class of Havre de Grace Colored School to graduate from the 12th grade. The achievement marked his lifelong pursuit of education.
Pursuing his dream of becoming a commercial artist, Joe left Havre de Grace for Philadelphia, enrolling in the Philadelphia Museum School of Art. He left the school and in 1954 enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, a career choice that would take him across the country and overseas. After basic training in Utica, New York, Joe’s stations included Alabama, Arkansas, Washington state and California as well as Spain, France, Canada, Greece and Bien Hoa, Vietnam.
Though he interrupted his education to join the military -- and had started a family not long after enlisting -- Joe was determined to get his college diploma: He attended Eastern Washington State College and John Hancock College in California before earning his associates’ degree from Chattanooga State Technical Community College. He was the first college graduate of his immediate family.
Retiring from the Air Force as a Technical Sergeant, the branch’s eighth-highest non-commissioned rank, Joe continued to serve his country as a civil servant. An industrial hygienist, he first worked for the City of Baltimore, then for Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in Chattanooga, TN, one of the nation’s oldest and most important public works projects.
After leaving TVA, he joined the staff at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia, a major U.S. Navy installation that helps build and maintain the Atlantic fleet. Then, Joe returned home to work at Aberdeen Proving Grounds/Edgewood Arsenal, a key U.S. Army base near Havre de Grace. He retired from APG on April 3, 1999.
He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Constance Williams of Aberdeen; a sister, Claudia Whitfield of Havre de Grace; four children, Leslie Williams of Belcamp, MD., Cheryl Williams of Richmond, VA; Judith Rowe of Horseheads, NY (Joe N. Rowe); and Joseph Williams Jr. of Washington, DC.; five grandchildren; and a host of beloved nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews who knew him as Uncle Buddy.