For the past seven or eight years, Frank Williams began his day by thinking of ways to make that day even more enjoyable than the last for his daughters, Ryann, now 9, and, when she came along, Randi, now 4. For the past 16 years, he spent the better part of the day and evening teaching and coaching boys basketball at Cool-idge High School in the District.
Despite friendly pleas from his wife Helen, Williams seemed to find delight in relieving her of her duties so he could play both mother and father to their children. He would often leave his practices in the hands of longtime assistants Len Farello and Jerell Robinson to engage in activities with his daughters. His basketball teams were 255-131, and in the last four seasons, the Colts were as good as anyone. They won the city championship in 1986 and Williams was named the metropolitan area's coach of the year, an honor he wished he could have been split with Farello and Robinson.
Williams didn't drink, didn't curse and could always find something good to say about everyone. When he raised his voice to make a point, which wasn't often, folks would laugh because they knew it was out of character.
Williams died of brain cancer on Memorial Day, six days after his 43rd birthday. The hundreds of relatives, friends, coworkers, former players and admirers who lined the street at the 12th Street Church in Northwest to pay their final respects last week were still in shock. They asked, "Why Frank? Why this man, who spent his entire career trying to convince student-athletes they could succeed in life with hard work and faith?"
"Commitment made Frank special," said Leonard Upson, Theodore Roosevelt High School principal and one of Williams' best friends. "His word was bond. All he thought about was his family and his students. Every day of their lives, he thought about what to do with his daughters. You can see how well thought of he was by the number of people who came to pay their respects."
Upson, Robinson, Farello and another longtime friend, Kent Amos, watched Williams battle the cancer that was torturing him the past six months. He was in and out of hospitals for that period, unable to ascertain the cause of daily headaches. The Friday of Memorial Day weekend, it was discovered he had a tumor. Three days later, he was operated on, but died within hours.
"We had to drive him everywhere because of blackouts," said Upson, who met Williams when both were in high school. "Helen didn't want him left alone and we tried to do everything we could for him."
Second to his family, Williams' passion was athletics. He played baseball and basketball at Coolidge and basketball at Howard University before eventually returning to his high school to work. He spent long hours teaching and preparing his teams. His first-class approach to his work always impressed his Interhigh League rivals.
"I coached against Frank longer than anyone," said former Spingarn coach John Wood. "We would have long conversations about basketball and the league on the phone and he was always the gentleman. He demanded the same from his players. He cared for this league and how we were perceived by others. Frank was a class act."
I remember dozens of postgame interviews with Williams. Regardless of the outcome, he would point out the efforts of certain players -- never the same one twice -- and he never said a bad word about the other team. Even in a 25-point win, Williams would insist it was a tough game and his team was lucky to win.
Williams was a winner on the court and at the game of life. He has moved on to a bigger court, but we have all been touched by his kindness, his unselfishness, his integrity. We thank him for being part of our lives.