Earnestine Williams, the Southside Syracuse woman who lived during two major pandemics and volunteered even after she turned 100, has died. She was 103.
Williams died Friday of natural causes, her grandson said. She was surrounded by family and her faith, said Elder Reginald K. Williams, an assistant pastor at Heavenly Vision Apostolic Church and one of Earnestine’s 29 grandchildren.
Reginald Williams recalled his grandmother’s sharp memory and deep, abiding belief in Jesus Christ. She was known for her faith and commitment to community. Her grandson said it won’t surprise those who know her to learn she was yearning to volunteer right up until the end.
Williams lived through one major pandemic, the Spanish flu of 1918, as a baby.
She was surviving another this year, which earned her a shoutout from Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon during a news conference. McMahon shared her story to remind the community whom measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing are designed to protect.
Williams told a reporter in April she was eager to return to volunteering once it was safe, noting it was all part of God’s plan.
“It’s a bad virus, isn’t it?” she said during an interview in her living room. “I ain’t talked about it. I listen to other people talk. I’m hoping God will stop it. That’s the only person going to stop it.”
Reginald Williams said his grandmother right up until her final days was eager to get back out and return to her normal activities: volunteer work, church and bingo.
“She was still very much enthused and ready to go back to work,” he said.
In her final weeks, the family matriarch recalled stories and names of people she’d worked with as a volunteer. She sang, hummed and prayed often.
“She spent her final hours joyful with her family, thankful,” Reginald Williams said. “She went peacefully. She was ready to be with her savior.”
The grandson said Williams lived to the fullest right up until the very end, even with the restrictions of coronavirus. One highlight of the last few months for 103-year-old woman was getting in a trip to the nail salon. Reginald Williams said the salon had been so accommodating, even offering “curbside” service so the elderly woman did not have to get out of the car.
Her grandson said she was always aware of small acts of kindness and giving, and saw them as reaping the rewards of her faith and service over the years.
Originally from Valdosta, Georgia, Earnestine Williams later lived and worked in Florida before making Syracuse her home in 1980. She moved here with her husband, Lonza Williams, who died in the 1990s, and their 11 children.
Williams was the longest-serving volunteer senior companion for the New York State Office for Persons with Developmental Disabilities. She volunteered for 41 years, leaving “an indelible mark on every person with whom she came into contact because of her selflessness, her kindness and the wisdom she so willingly shared,” according to a statement from OPWDD.
“Earnestine was devoted to making people’s lives better and we are all better for knowing her,” the statement said. “She will be greatly missed and always remembered.”
The family invited anyone wishing to share condolences, memories or tributes to Williams to send messages to the Heavenly Apostolic Church (mailing address P.O. Box 32, Syracuse, N.Y. 13205, or by email at email@example.com).
A Celebration of Life service will be held on Friday at noon Bellegrove Baptist Church (218 Martin Luther King Jr Way in Syracuse). Calling hours will be held from 10 a.m. to noon followed the burial at Onondaga Valley Cemetery.
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