By Sue Ellen Woodcock
Winthrop has lost the rock of senior activities at the Robert DeLeo Senior Center.
Nancy Williams, 68, died of cancer on July 26. She had been involved in the senior center community as its director for 25 years that was first located in an old church on the site if the current Cummings School.
She was instrumental for raising funds for the new senior center on Harvard Street.
“I am devastated by the passing of Nancy Williams,” said Speaker of the House and Winthrop resident Robert DeLeo. “She was not only a dear friend of mine, but a friend to all of Winthrop. She challenged all of us to be better to one and other, give more of ourselves, and approach our work with generosity and empathy. In short, Nancy was an inspiration both to me and to many in our community.”
Williams was known for her smile and her humor. She was courageous and funneled her personal experiences into supporting others. She was a breast-cancer survivor and spoke at the local Women’s Health Forum about her experience. Williams was also a member of Survivors By The Sea, a local cancer support network. Williams had also served on the board of directors for CASA as president.
A nurse by trade, Williams obtained her nursing degree while living in Florida. She also spent time living in England before settling back home in Winthrop.
Friend Barbara Bishop, who worked with Williams at WCAT, the local cable studio, smiled when she spoke of Williams, someone she had known for over 30 years.
“She was always fun,” Bishop said. “She played in a band called Pandoras when she was younger, playing the drums and traveling around with her friends. She was always welcoming, happy and funny.”
The Pandoras were nothing to sneeze at. Performing from 1964 to 1968, the girl band, one of the first, had some success, including a recording contract and a couple of singles with Liberty Records (“About My Baby”, b/w “New Day,” “Games” b/w “Don’t Bother”), and gigs that brought them from the Surf in Nantasket, the Rathskeller in Kenmore Square and the Boston Garden, to shows all around the U.S. as well as in Newfoundland and Puerto Rico. They were also the opening acts for singers like The Kingsmen, Dionne Warwick, the Byrds and the Gary Lewis & the Playboys. Songs the band covered included “Kind of a Drag,” “Hang on Sloopy,” “Happy Together,” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.”
Williams graduated from Winthrop High School in 1967, with her best friend Dawn Mahoney, who doubled as a road manager for the group.
“We were hanging out at her house and asking each other, ‘What do you want to do?’,” Mahoney recalled. The two decided to head to Greenwich Village in New York City to watch a friend play at The Bitter End. Sitting in front of them was Neil Diamond.
“It was good clean fun,” Mahoney said, adding that their two families were more than just close. “She was aunt Nancy and her husband Jimmy was an uncle.”
Mahoney and Williams had been working together on the 50th reunion for the WHS Class of ’67 to be held in November.
“She was one of the most giving people on the face of the earth,” Mahoney said. “When we first met in school, it felt like we had known each other forever. Our families were very close.”
Back in Winthrop, Bishop and Williams worked together on a WCAT telethon held to raise funds for the senior center on Harvard Street.
“She was so much fun to work with,’ Bishop said. “She was the rock of the senior center from fundraiser to cleaner. She had high standards and embraced a slogan about the senior center — ‘We’re not just BINGO anymore’.
Williams viewed the senior center as a club where seniors meet to socialize. Today, the center offers lunch, language lessons, ceramics, exercise, dance, support groups and much more.
“Nancy has left an indelible mark on Winthrop and its citizens. Her unyielding, selfless commitment to our town has, has drawn our community together, made us stronger and made Winthrop a better place to live, work and raise a family. I cannot put into words how much she will be missed,” DeLeo said.
“So many people have survived because of her,” Mahoney said of Williams’ work at the senior center. “She was a force to be reckoned.”
Williams was born on July 4, 1949. She was the devoted wife of James W. “Jimmy” Williams. Loving mother of Jennifer Kravitz and her husband Scott of Winthrop and Peter Williams of Winthrop. Dear sister of Jerry DiMuro and his wife Cheryl of NH, Lynda Grato and her husband Joseph of Wakefield and Scooby Wells of Revere. Cherished grandmother of Dylan, Nathan, Scotty, Jr., Jaiden, Treven, James and Jorja. Services were held at St. John the Evangelist Church, 320 Winthrop St., Winthrop on Wednesday, Aug. 2. Interment is in the Belle Isle section of Winthrop Cemetery. Memorial donations may be made to the Survivors By the Sea at www.survivorsbythesea.org.
As Nancy would say, “be kind to others.”