Ex-City Councilmember Jeanette Williams, 94, dies; served on Seattle council for 20 years
Jeanette Williams, a longtime member of the Seattle City Council and an ardent supporter of parks, the West Seattle Bridge and human rights, died Friday at age 94.
Seattle Times staff reporter
When Jeanette Williams was living in a convalescent home, she always had a Barack Obama button affixed to her clothes. She was known there as the Obama Lady, said her daughter, Patty Kraniotis.
Before Mrs. Williams died Friday (Oct. 24) at age 94, of arterial disease, she made sure she cast her absentee ballot for Obama.
"She did have her say," Kraniotis said.
Mrs. Williams was a longtime member of the Seattle City Council and an ardent supporter of parks, the West Seattle Bridge and human rights.
The day before she died, she had her son, Rusty, call City Councilman Tom Rasmussen, who worked for Mrs. Williams on the City Council, to express her concerns about leasing buildings in Magnuson Park to private interests.
"I knew she was ill, but I thought she might come down in a stretcher and testify against it," said Rasmussen, who heads the same parks committee that Mrs. Williams once chaired. He said she even got Congressman Jim McDermott to call him about the parks plan.
"That was the kind of clout she had," Rasmussen said. "She was organized right to the end."
Born in Seattle, Mrs. Williams graduated from Queen Anne High School and studied music at the Chicago Conservatory of Music. She told her daughter how she and friends would sneak out of their dorms to attend a club and listen to Louis Armstrong.
A violinist who also played the viola, Mrs. Williams performed with the Chicago and Seattle symphonies and in Chicago formed a traveling women's band that played blues and jazz.
"Eventually she abandoned music for politics," Kraniotis said. "Politics became a passion of hers at an early age." She remembers doorbelling for her mother.
Mrs. Williams served 20 years on the City Council until she was defeated in 1989 by Cheryl Chow.
She was a longtime champion of Magnuson Park, fighting efforts by private pilots who wanted it to remain a private airport. When the old runway was eventually torn up, she kept a piece as a souvenir, Rasmussen said.
Mrs. Williams was also a strong advocate for transportation and even urged Metro years ago to develop a light-rail system.
She fought for a new West Seattle Bridge, helping obtain federal funds for the construction. She also fought to get rid of skybridges, and to keep Seattle Center from being turned over to Disney.
"She always had a wary eye of any mayor in office," said Rasmussen, adding that Mrs. Williams once considered running for mayor herself. "And she founded a strong commitment in the city toward human rights. She was there at the beginning. When the issues came up, everyone ran for cover, but she felt she was elected to represent everyone."
Rasmussen said Mrs. Williams was a strong advocate for women in nontraditional jobs.
He also said she was very cagey about revealing her age.
"She truly hated the effects of aging," he said. "It frustrated her deeply to be slowing down."
Mrs. Williams was a season-ticket holder to the Seattle Symphony and continued her love of music.
Mrs. Williams was chairwoman of the King County Democratic Party, the first female county chair of a large metropolitan area in the United States, Kraniotis said.
"She was very passionate about politics," she said. "She loved the city and wanted to leave green areas."
Mrs. Williams is survived by her daughter, of Washington, D.C., and son, of Mercer Island. Her husband, David Williams, died in 1993.
Services will be Wednesday, Nov. 5, at 2 p.m at Town Hall, 1119 8th Avenue. A reception will follow there.
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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