Detroit native Paul Williams, 61, loved adventure, 'exuded warmth'

The Detroit News
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Paul Williams was known as a quiet, introspective thinker who loved his family and was always game for adventure — like the time he rode in the pilot seat of a glider plane as it soared into the sky tethered to another aircraft. 

When the planes reached 10,000 feet, the glider was unhooked and he piloted it to safety. It was his first time manning a glider plane.

“He only told me after he did it because he knew I would be mad and say ‘It’s too dangerous,’” said his wife of 36 years, Oralandar Brand-Williams, a reporter at The Detroit News. “He loved adventure.”

Mr. Williams, a Southfield resident, died of cancer Saturday, June 20, 2020. He was 61.

Paul Cobin Williams

His adventurous streak took him to the slopes of Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado and Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada, where he and his older brother Grady loved to ski. 

Mr. Williams also loved traveling to places such as Paris, Italy and the Caribbean, as well as riding bicycles and motorcycles, boating and camping.

“His brother Grady referred to him as ‘Joe Camp,’” his wife said. “He had every size camping tent and endless supplies of camping equipment and gadgets that made being in the outdoors fun.”

Locally, Mr. Williams found other diversions that brought him out into nature.

“It definitely wasn’t uncommon for him to spend a couple hours on the weekend flying kites on Belle Isle,” said Felecia Henderson, a longtime family friend and former assistant managing editor at The News.

Born Nov. 30, 1958, to Rodgers and Katie Williams, he grew up in Detroit and graduated from Central High School, where he met his wife while working as a stagehand in the auditorium.

“I was struck by his kind face,” Brand-Williams said. “He always reminded me of (actor) Clifton Davis. He definitely had Hollywood good looks. He was always being mistaken for Clifton Davis or Johnny Mathis.”

They wed at St. Cecilia church in Detroit in 1984.

“I was definitely the yin to his yang,” his wife said. “We were opposites. That’s what made us so special.”

Mr. Williams attended Oakland University, where he studied business and accounting.

While there, he led the NAACP campus chapter and was involved in the school’s theater department.

Mr. Williams began his career in facilities management at Mount Carmel Hospital in Detroit. 

He later went to work at the city’s Hutzel Hospital, where he became the assistant director of environmental services, according to his family.

During his tenure, he was a member of the men’s guild, coached a basketball team and implemented an annual observance for civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., relatives said.

Mr. Williams later become director of environmental services at Harper/Detroit Medical Center.

"He just liked the hospital atmosphere," said Darrell Stewart, a longtime friend who has known him since childhood. 

Mr. Williams went on to form his company, American Facility Services, relatives said. Clients included Ford Motor Co.

"He just had the aspirations of trying to do something for himself," Stewart said. "He enjoyed it. He had a couple prominent people that he contracted to him. On top of that, he had a chance to hire people, get them opportunities."

Outside of work, Mr. Williams relished spending time with his wife and family, joining them for the card game Bid Whist. 

He was also a welcome addition to everything from summer cookouts to concerts, greeting others with "a warm, beautiful, genuine smile," Henderson said. “He was just a very caring man and that generosity was just a part of his being. … His disposition was always one of happiness, and warmth. He really exuded warmth.”

Due partly out of his love of laughter, Mr. Williams entertained others with "great one-liners," Stewart said. "He was a fun guy. You enjoyed being around him. He’d keep you laughing."

Other talents included sketching and mastering mathematics.

“It came easy to him. He could explain math to people who struggled with math,” his wife said. “He would give tutorial sessions to adults who were struggling and needed additional help to prepare for a job or school exam. He was well-suited to be a math teacher or lawyer.”

His willingness to help others never wavered. During his illness, Mr. Williams participated in experimental clinical trials.

“He thought of how others could beat this insidious cancer. I remember him saying ‘If I don’t make it, I want to be able to help others,’” his wife said.

Besides his wife, other survivors include siblings Donald William Williams, Cathy Williams, Grady Williams, Vanessa Williams, Barbara Williams Clark, Evelyn Vaughn, Barry Williams and Nancy Williams, and many nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews. 

He was predeceased by his parents; siblings Missouri Williams, Phyllis Williams, Betty Price and Rodgers Williams Jr.; and a sister-in-law, Cynetta Williams.

Private services were scheduled for Saturday, June 27, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Detroit. Burial is at Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery in Clinton Township.

Memorials may be made to Hospice of Michigan, the NAACP or the American Cancer Society.

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