Lois G. Williams

Lois G. Williams, a partner in the Washington law firm of Howrey, Simon, Arnold & White and a specialist in pro bono litigation on behalf of the homeless, died Oct. 13 at a hospital in San Francisco. She was 75.

The cause was complications from leukemia, said Susan Huhta, a family representative and professional colleague.

Ms. Williams began her legal career in Washington in 1975 as an appellate lawyer with the Department of Labor. She was a partner from 1988 to 1999 at Howrey, Simon. In 1995 she received the D.C. Bar Association’s pro bono lawyer of the year award.

She left Howrey in 1999 to work full time in public interest law with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, where she was senior counsel for litigation and communications. Her work there helped secure access to polling places for wheelchair users and accessible voting machines for blind voters and voters with manual disabilities.

At Howrey, Ms. Williams was instrumental in the firm’s bringing a class-action lawsuit to endorse the DC Right to Overnight Shelter Law, and she directed a team of lawyers in obtaining a court order expanding the number and quality of the city’s overnight shelters. This same legal team secured $4 million in contempt fines, which at Ms. Williams’s initiative were placed in a Trust for Affordable Housing.

Lois Gayle Friesner was born in Ames, Iowa, and grew up in Arizona. She was a 1963 music graduate of the University of California at Riverside. She received a master’s degree in English from Kansas State University in 1966. She then taught English at Ohio State University, where in 1974 she received a law degree. She published a college textbook about music appreciation to finance her legal education.

Before joining Howrey, Simon, she was a law clerk to a federal appeals court judge in Miami, a Labor Department lawyer, and general counsel and litigation director with the National Treasury Employes Union.

Retiring from her legal career in 2004, Ms. Williams joined the Peace Corps at the age of 65. She was a youth development adviser in the landlocked African country of Lesotho, where she was also an HIV/AIDS counselor. She returned to Washington in 2006 and in 2009 moved to San Francisco.

Her marriage to John Williams ended in divorce. Her second husband, Daniel Swillinger, died in 1995 after 19 years of marriage.

Survivors include a son from her second marriage, Patrick Swillinger of San Francisco; four sisters, Kay Muther of Sacramento, Calif., Phyllis Newton of Arlington, Doris Borchert of Phillips, Wis., and Jane Goddard of Prescott, Ariz.; and a brother, Wayne Friesner of Denton, Tex.

— Bart Barnes