It's almost indescribable," said Cynthia Williams. "It's really been wonderful. I can't even express it. I just wish I could say thank you to everyone individually.
"But what I wish even more is that this never had to happen."
Almost two months ago, Cynthia Williams' 49-year-old husband Raymond stopped his car in the middle of a downtown Washington street at 3 a.m. to help a woman who had just been pushed out of another car by an angry boyfriend.
Williams picked the woman off the pavement and offered to drive her home. She accepted. Williams helped her into the passenger seat of his Pontiac, and was walking behind it to get behind the wheel when a silver 1975 Mustang smashed into him.
The collision pinned Williams' right leg between the two cars. The leg was broken in more than two dozen places, and was amputated the next day. Three days later, during surgery to close the amputation wound, Williams died when a massive blood clot formed in one of this lungs.
He left his wife of 24 years, and six children.
Williams' accident and death was front-page news around Washington for most of Thanksgiving week.
Headlines called him "The Good Samaritan." One editorial praised him for being "the kind of person which makes this country special." Tributes to his work as a janitor at an elementary school and as a good neighbor around his Landover home began to pour in.
Contributions did, too.
In the week immediately after Williams' death, about 50 letters containing cash or checks arrived every day at Jackson Road Elementary School in Silver Spring, where Williams had worked for 12 years. Meanwhile, phone inquiries about where to send help arrived at the school "by the ton," according to Edward Green, the principal.
So to assure that "order was maintained and that the family got the benefits of every cent," Green established a Raymond Williams Memorial Fund, and ordered that Jackson Road's main office serve as the collection point for donations to the Williams family.
In almost every highly publicized tragedy like the one that befell the Williams family, strangers send money, and sometimes food and clothing. But usually, there is no accounting of how much is given, where it is invested and what the grieving family plans to do with the money in the long run.
But as a result of interviews with Mrs. Williams, Green and others close to the Williams family, this picture emerges:
The family has gotten donations from more than 1,400 people, totalling nearly 40,000. The money has come from as far away as New York and North Carolina. Donations have ranged from $1 to $500, although most are $5 or $10. They have come from individuals, school groups and religious groups, in roughly equal proportions.
The funds have been invested in a passbook savings account at Sandy Spring National Bank, where they are earning 5 1/2 percent interest.
Both Green's and Cynthia Williams' signatures are necessary to withdraw any of the funds. But "not a cent has been withdrawn so far," according to Green, and "not a cent will be until we determine a long-range financial strategy."
Besides contributions, the Williams family has received three lump-sum death benefits: from a life insurance policy all Montgomery County employes carry, from Williams' contributions to a county employes' retirement fund, and from Williams' severance account, which is paid automatically on death. In addition, Mrs. Williams will soon begin to receive her husband's Social Security benefits.
The amounts of these four payments could not be learned exactly. But sources indicated that they may total as much as $30,000.
Mrs. Williams and Green are considering investing both the donations and the death benefits in stocks or certificates of deposit. Instead, or perhaps later, the money may be placed in trust funds for the Williams' children. Both Mrs. Williams and Green said they expected to reach a decision shortly.
"The idea is to give Mrs. Williams a cushion," Green explained. She earns approximately $6,000 a year as a clerk at a Zayre's department store in New Carrollton. If she invests $70,000 at current money market rates, she could earn an additional $8,000 a year or more.
"We're going to use this money to make sure this family has a source of income indefinitely," Green said.
Besides cash, the Williams family has received help -- and offers to help -- that range from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Probably, the single most valuable example of generosity came from Bill Schuiling, who owns six automobile dealerships in Northern Virginia.
Schuiling read of Raymond Williams' death in the newspaper, and gave Cynthia Williams the free use of a new 1980 Dodge Aspen for two years. gSchuiling included free maintenance. All Mrs. Williams pays is gasoline.
Schuiling said he had never met Mrs. Williams or given a car away before.
"When he lost his leg, I thought, 'Jesus, what a sad thing,'" Schuiling said. "Then when he died, it was just unbelievable.
"I just felt very sorry for her. I don't think people appreciate other people enough in this world. So I just felt that here was something I could do."
On the other end of the spectrum, Mrs. Williams said she has received "dozens" of marriage proposals, harassing phone calls, unwanted offers of help and visits from people whose motives may have been less than pure.
One stockbroker wrote Green and offered his services as an investment adviser. "You may be able to use some advice," the man said.
He also quoted the fee he would charge. It was not small.
Meanwhile, about a month ago, a man appeared on the doorstep of the Williams home and offered to take the entire family on a picnic in his private airplane. Mrs. Williams refused.
She also refused to sit for a face-to-face interview, or to allow a photographer to take pictures of her family.
"I have to work, and I have to leave the children alone, and that puts me in a position where I worry about them," Mrs. Williams said.
"Besides, we've been getting calls in the middle of the night. It's been a touchy situation. I've learned from this that there are thousands and thousands of nice people, but some who have sick minds."
Green said most of the donors he has met have "impressed me more than anything ever has that my fellow man can be sensitive."
Mrs. Williams said her spirits are "okay", and her plans are "sort of hanging."
But she was definite about one thing: "Just tell everybody we did receive the funds, and that people have done more than enough. Just tell them thanks from the bottom of my heart, and the children's, too."