July 18, 2024

Creston native, Phoenix contributor remembered

Former Mayor Thelda Williams, the only person to ever serve as the Phoneix, Arizona, top official on three separate occasions who served on the city council for more than 20 years, died in November after a brief battle with cancer. She was 82. Services are scheduled today in Creston. Her obituary was included in the July 3 edition of the Creston News Advertiser.

She was born in Creston and is a 1959 graduate of Creston High School. She was inducted into the school’s hall of fame in 2013.

“Thelda Williams’s service to our city has touched and improved the lives of everyone who lives here—from improving Sky Harbor International Airport to strengthening our transit system to making sure that we use our water wisely,” Mayor Kate Gallego said after her passing. “She cared deeply about Phoenix’s people and its future, and her legacy will endure far beyond our lifetimes. We mourn her loss, and her large city family extends our heartfelt condolences to her family who she treasured so much.”

Williams first began serving on the city council in 1989, and unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 1995. After departing the council, she ran again in 2007 and served through 2021 after her third consecutive term expired. After the resignations of Mayors Paul Johnson, Terry Goddard and Greg Stanton, who each ran for a different office, she was selected by her city council colleagues to serve as interim mayor.

“I started lobbying the parks department and the city of Phoenix for ballfields,” Williams told the Creston News Advertiser in 2013. “Once I made a couple of appearances at city council meetings, I got involved as a neighborhood advocate, and it went from there.”

Those who served with her, remember.

“Thelda Williams was a dear friend and colleague,” Councilwoman Debra Stark, who served with Williams, said. “I am deeply saddened about her passing, as she impacted so many lives, as well as my own. She was an ally on the council, but also a force to be reckoned with. I take solace in knowing she lived a full and accomplished life. We owe a debt of gratitude to Thelda for her many years of public service and contributions to the city of Phoenix. Thelda will be so missed.”

To honor Williams, the city council voted to name the new transit center at Metrocenter after her. In 2019, the city, along with the Downtown Phoenix Partnership and PetSmart Charities, built the " Thelda Williams Paw-Pup Dog Park ‚” downtown Phoenix’s first dog park.

Williams was a devout animal lover and spearheaded multiple city policies to protect dogs.

Williams’ efforts to curb animal abuse also involved successful introduction of legislation to curb “horse tripping.””That was a practice in some off-sanctioned rodeos where the horses would run full-gallop and people would lasso their front feet,” Williams said in 2013. “It often killed them, and broke their legs. We got Arizona’s animal abuse laws strengthened.”

Williams also served as the city’s vice mayor, chair of the City Council’s Transportation Infrastructure and Planning Subcommittee, and as chair of the Valley Metro Rail board.

“Thelda Williams leaves behind a legacy for all of Phoenix that cannot be outshined,” Councilwoman Ann O’Brien, who succeeded Williams on the city council, said. “She was a role model, a mentor, a Jeopardy question, the only person to have served as the mayor three separate times and a friend. She will be deeply missed and leaves behind a pair of shoes that will be impossible to fill. District 1 and all of Phoenix saw exponential growth under Thelda’s leadership. We would not be where we are today as a city if it weren’t for Thelda’s service.”

Williams is survived by her son Murry and daughter Cyndi, as well as three grandsons: Matt Smith, a Phoenix police officer, and Ben and John Williams. She is preceded in death by her husband, Mel, a former Phoenix police officer, and her daughter Chris.

City of Phoenix, Arizona, contributed to this story.