Hemelt: Leroy Williams is a name that should not be forgotten

Published 12:03 am Saturday, September 5, 2015

I was not lucky enough to know Leroy Williams, but spending an hour last weekend with those who knew and loved him most was something extra special.

Williams, who served on the St. John the Baptist Parish Library Board of Control, was honored posthumously Aug. 29 when the Reserve library was officially named Leroy D. Williams Memorial Library.

A who’s who of St. John’s elected leaders, library supporters, friends and family honored Williams last week by swapping stories, offering up plenty of laughs and even shedding a few tears.

It was obvious the day would be special when library workers scrambled to find extra chairs before the ceremony started at 10 a.m. because an overflow crowd was arriving.

Mr. Williams’ son, Jerrold, spoke for the family, thanking those for helping support his father’s love of children and education, while offering sincere gratitude because the Reserve library would forever bear his father’s name.

More than a dozen speakers took to the microphone after Jerrold’s remarks, offering humorous memories of Mr. Williams and sharing lessons learned from the veteran educator. I gather Mr. Williams had a distinctive way of speaking because nearly everyone who spoke offered an impersonation of Williams.

The following are just some of the day’s highlights:

• Sheriff Mike Tregre said Williams was his principal at East St. John High School, and he went out of his way to be friends with Jerrold in hopes Williams would take it easy on him. It didn’t work.

Tregre said Williams knew every student’s schedule and demanded all children be where they were supposed to be with their identification tag in place.

“He scared you, but he did it with love,” Tregre said. “That is what is missing in schools today. He had a big foot, and he left a foot print on our minds, heart and on our future.”

• Parish Councilman Lennix Madere Jr. said he first learned under Williams’ lead while a student at 5th Ward. According to Madere, he can still hear Williams’ often repeated axiom “if you do nothing, you get nothing.”

• Parish Councilman Larry Snyder said Williams taught him general business in the 10th grade, and instruction included everyday skills, like what a check is and how you are supposed to fill one out.

“I still think about him every time I fill out a check,” Snyder said.

• St. John Parish Chief Administrative Officer Michael Coburn said he first crossed paths with Williams as a 21-year-old coach, knowing instantly Williams was the consummate leader.

Coburn shared a story of turning in money and gate receipts following a football game against John Ehret High School. The revenue and receipts were off by one penny. Coburn said Williams made him go back and do it again.

“He said, ‘you’re going to learn from this,’” Coburn said. “He was right. I made sure to get it right each time down to the cent going forward.”

• St. John School Board Member Rodney Nicholas said Williams was a great educator, gentleman and man, who, he joked, appointed himself Nicholas’ campaign manager when Nicholas decided to run for office.

Nicholas said Williams never led him wrong.

• Library Board Member Dardnella Clark said Williams and his lessons live on in the hearts of those lucky enough to have had him as a teacher.

She said his guiding advice to her while on the Library Board was to always “follow policy.”

• Tammy Houston, administrative service coordinator for the library system, told perhaps the most humorous and representative story about Williams.

She said years ago she was having a disagreement with then-library system director Randy De Soto.

“I figured I knew Mr. Williams and had some sway with him so I called Mr. Williams,” Houston said. “I said, ‘I have a problem with Mr. De Soto, then I heard a dial tone. Mr. Williams had already hung up.”

Leroy D. Williams was a man of utmost integrity. We’re lucky his name will never be forgotten.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.