Renee Williams in a computer-cam photo she took of herself.
Renee Williams, 59, partner of Villager’s Gregory
By Albert Amateau
Renee Williams, who lived in the East Village for nearly 20 years and worked for the late Antonio Pagan when he was a city councilmember representing the district in the 1990s, died Tues., Aug. 3, at age 59.
Diagnosed with cancer more than 10 years ago, she continued to be a community activist in Queens where she moved to in 1999. But her health became worse about two years ago, said Colin Gregory, her life partner for the past 13 years and retail ad manager for The Villager and East Villager.
While living in the East Village, Renee Williams worked for a time at the Bottom Line music club on W. Fourth St. and became active in the St. Mark’s Block Association. In the late 1980s she joined BASTA (Before Another Shelter Tears Us Apart), which was concerned with quality-of-life issues related to the E. Third St. men’s shelter near the Bowery. She remained active in the area as the shelter transitioned from a processing center to a Project Renewal program and as the neighborhood continued to struggle with drug dealers.
A member of the Democratic Action Club, she worked on Pagan’s first election campaign in 1991. Pagan won the election and Renee Williams went on to manage his district office and serve as his coordinator of constituent services. She was instrumental in getting the New York City Housing Authority to make long-delayed repairs; she advocated for tenants with federal Section 8 vouchers and on behalf of tenants in privately owned housing. Williams also worked to solve other problems, including noise from Webster Hall, the proliferation of bars in the district and the neighborhood drug trade. After Pagan’s second term ended, she became promotions manager for Isadora’s Dance Legacy, a dance troupe based at St. Mark’s Church.
In 1999 she moved to Sunnyside, Queens, where she worked with the Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance in the successful effort to establish the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District.
“What was most remarkable to all of us was her unwavering good spirits and the strength she summoned for all these efforts despite her ill health,” said Herb Reynolds, president of the alliance.
Starting shortly after 9/11, for two years she was program director at Manhattan Youth, the Tribeca-based youth program, working with its director, Bob Townley, whom she had met in the East Village when they both lived there.
She was born Oct. 28, 1950, in Brooklyn, the youngest of four daughters, to Audrey Parsons Williams and Lorenzo C. Williams. She attended Our Lady of Victory elementary school in her Brooklyn neighborhood and went to Erasmus Hall High School in Flatbush. She went on to Staten Island Community College, majoring first in biology but switching to political science.
Williams’s and Gregory’s first connection was an ad she placed with him for Isadora’s Dance Legacy.
“I met Renee on Kentucky Derby Day 13 years ago and we celebrated our anniversary by betting on long shots,” said Gregory. “We enjoyed walking in Sunnyside viewing the gardens, and once a year Renee had to go to the Bronx Zoo to see her giraffes no matter how sick she was,” he said. “She was also very proud of my children, Amadaline and Kyrie. Her sister Jackie Horne, her friend Marion Osmun, her health attendant Betty and I were all privileged to care for her during her last illness,” Gregory added.
A memorial service for Renee Laurel Williams will be held from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Fri., Aug. 13, at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery parish hall on E. 10th St. at Second Ave. Donations may be made in her memory to Cancer Care, 275 Seventh Ave., New York, N.Y. 10001. Condolences may be sent to Colin Gregory, 51-02 39th Ave., Woodside, N.Y. 11377, or to Jackie Horne and the family of Renee Williams, 91 Midwood St., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11225.
Gregory, her sisters — Jackie; Jean Smith of Bedford, Mass.; and Yvonne Cohen of Orange, N.J. — survive, in addition to a large extended family of cousins, nieces, nephews, grandnephews and grandnieces and a 96-year-old aunt.