Miss Naomi Williams

How do you describe a life well-lived and infinitely appreciated?  Her obituary and tributes from a legion of students only begin to tell the story.


Legendary and beloved teacher and writer, Naomi Eileen Williams, 91, died peacefully in her sleep at home, April 2, 2020 in Evans, Georgia.

Born in Williams Hill in Georgetown County, South Carolina, Naomi is survived by several nieces and nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews, in addition to friends and former students who have offered heartfelt tributes to and memories of her extraordinary influence.

She developed her passions early in life: nature, animals, reading, writing, music, faith, and friendship. One niece remembers that an older Naomi became both mentor and storyteller to younger relatives. When the niece was to be married in a church without an organ, Naomi proceeded to the local funeral home to borrow an organ for a “proper wedding.” Besides a love of classical music, nature was her delight from youth. Trips to the mountains and through the countryside, mostly in pursuit of peach stands, evolved into a green thumb, spawning a lush garden wherever she lived. Her love of animals centered on her dogs, whom she considered not only good company but also intellectual partners. Skeptical friends were treated to canine renditions of the Hallelujah Chorus and the grammatical differences between lie and lay. One student recalls her own dog knew just what time she’d be in Naomi’s class. Other teachers would reject the dog, but Naomi would say, “Go to the nearest door and let the dog in!” Puck, Ariel, Betsy, Prince Hamlet, and Phoenix were her children.
A graduate of Columbia College in South Carolina, Naomi credited her father — a farmer, store owner, and Baptist preacher — as the primary influence in her decision to teach.

Her career spanned four decades of teaching literature and grammar at Langford, Westside, and Augusta Prep. Universally, former students remember her as hard but fair and caring, always challenging them to excel. And no one can forget her arched eyebrow, a signal of skepticism or disapproval that stopped whole classes in their tracks. Her wit, however, balanced any sternness. When an eighth-grade student summoned the courage to ask if Naomi was ever married, her response was both wishful and spontaneous: “Only to Shakespeare!” Another student recalls receiving from Miss Williams a paper, graded a C, and feeling dejected. In conference, Miss Williams explained, “I know what the scholars think about this piece of work. I wanted to know what you thought.” “It was the first time I realized that my opinions and thoughts mattered as a writer,” the student remembers, an experience that inspired her own career as a teacher and writer.

A student from early in Miss William’s career credits her with “teaching me the king’s English and giving me an appreciation not only for language, but also for all the arts. Now, she is probably trying to teach the angels how to diagram.” A student from her final class, who cites Naomi as the inspiration for his becoming a college professor, says, “It is perhaps the greatest irony that words cannot say enough about a teacher who dedicated herself to words. I hope that I can become half as important in the lives of my own students.” Judy Woodruff, executive producer and anchor of the PBS News Hour, offered a summation of the memories of most of her students: “How could one teacher have touched the lives of so many when we were at an impressionable age?”

She never failed to ask former students — and anyone she met — what they were reading.  “As much as she loved reading, though, she loved writing, creating characters and being free to explore her own story,” relates Father Trout, Naomi’s friend and priest at St. Luke’s Anglican Church. Naomi authored and published four novels, all after her retirement from teaching, and initiated at Brandonwilde the Literary Revels, a series of guest speakers and actors introducing studies of poetry, the history of film, and scenes from Shakespeare, to name a few. At St. Luke’s, where she was the last living founding member, she taught Sunday School classes, her energetic presentations noted for their depth of research and thoughtful discussion. A “proud, contented, and active” member of her congregation, she donated a portrait of St. Luke, to hang in the sanctuary, in honor of her father.

Friends at Brandonwilde recall Naomi’s love of cooking and frequent evenings of good food, drink, and literary discussions in her apartment. While at Brandonwilde, she chaired the Beebe Educational Endowment Committee, which offers gifts of up to $5000 to staff and team members to achieve their educational goals.  In the newsletter, The Wilde Times, she also wrote biographies of the newest Shining Stars, employees honored for their dedicated and appreciated service.
While her professional influence and accomplishments were a hallmark of her life, Naomi held steadfast in her last days to what mattered most to her in the ordinary moments of experience: intellectual curiosity, profound faith, and fierce independence. “Nothing in her life became her like the leaving of it.” (Macbeth) Hers was a life well-lived and well-loved.

Tributes to Miss Naomi Williams

“A word is dead when it is said. I say it just begins to live that day.”  by Emily Dickinson

Jack Carswell, '65

Naomi Williams was a saint in my eyes.  She was my English teacher at Langford for the 8th through the 10th grades from 1957 to 1960.  She was one of the best, if not the best, teachers I ever had, in any subject.  She taught me “the king’s English”, so to speak, and drummed it into my brain so that I never forgot the proper use of our language.  She encouraged me, scolded me, and loved me, as she did all her students.  And she gave me an appreciation for not just literature, but all the arts, that I would never have received elsewhere.  Sadly, because she was so rough and demanding, most students couldn’t stand her.  But she got the job done in spite of it.  I was privileged to see her a couple of times in recent years at Regal Cinema, and I was stunned that she actually remembered me.  Of course part of the reason for that was because of something stupid I had done back then, but regardless of the reason, it meant a lot to me that she remembered me.  On both occasions that we met, we spoke for about 15 minutes, sharing lots of memories.  I have to admit that I was sort of a “pet” student of hers back then, probably because I was willing to learn, and she gave me several out-of-class opportunities that I otherwise would not have gotten.  It was during one of those opportunities that I screwed up, and neither she nor I ever forgot it.  Fortunately, there was more humor to be found in the screw up than any degree of harm being done, and we were both able to laugh about it when we met most recently.  I consider myself very blessed to have had her as a teacher, and I have not and will not ever forget her.
I pray that she is at home with God now.  She is probably trying to teach the angels how to diagram sentences … LOL

K.S. Hammond, '65

Do you know that I can still recite “America for Me” by Henry Van Dyke?”
I remember her all too well and my sister had her as well. She instructed my sister to write a short story as the whole class was doing. My sister did the unthinkable and plagiarized a story out of a magazine without telling anyone!
Then the karmic S hit the fan! Miss Williams went completely crazy about the story and wanted to publish it in a national magazine. My sister was horrified and was afraid they were going to find out and sue her to smithereens.
I don’t think anything ever came of it but I will never forget it. I chuckle now as I am really the writer in our family. I’ve written a host of books which are available on Amazon.com if you type in K. S. Hammond.
Miss Williams must be chuckling from the other side as she sees my sister and the truth comes out in heaven ha ha. But then my sister can point out to her with pride and say “you influenced my younger sister to become a writer.”
As I am writing this the wonderful poem is flowing through my memory and I remember reciting it, not missing a word before the entire class because I loved it so much!
And the look of loving pride on the face of Miss Williams…as she was clearly able to see how much I loved this poem!
God bless you Miss Williams. May you live in peace, may you live in joy having found the Prince, Your soulmate waiting for you on the other side. He who is the scholar of Shakespeare. Maybe it was Shakespeare himself!

K.S.Hammond, ’65, lives in Egypt and is a writer

Tommy Farr, ‘66

I have often wondered whether Miss Williams was still with us. I have spent much of my career writing and she taught me how to do that, in part by ensuring we knew how to diagram sentences. To be frank, she terrified me, and I have told my children and grandchildren about her, making the point that tough teachers are often the best teachers.
After our senior year at ARC (I think it was) she was a chaperone in a memorable trip to Europe for a group of us (class of 66). She made sure that (for the most part) we behaved. She was a treasure. May she rest in peace.

Wayne Thigpen, '65

Thank you, Cynthia, for acknowledging Miss Williams.
She was the first teacher, aside from parents, to awaken curiosity. Both years at Langford, she required that we dissect poetry and prose and to love Shakespeare, even with the language barrier. She made us use logic to find beauty, which we always recognize because it thrills us.
Miss Williams taught people independent thought, rather than teaching just subject matter.
Though there were two others later in college, she was the first. I visited her several years ago, we lunched at Brandonwilde, she showed me her small condo and introduced me to Hamlet, her small dog. I thought the world of Naomi Williams and called sometimes to check on her, not keeping up enough. Thank you again, Cynthia

Thomas Mobley, '63

The first day of class she asked us to fill out a little piece of paper with our name and some other information and one thing she wanted was a nickname if that was what we preferred to be called. She told us that the year before someone had put their nickname as Snowball and she’d called him Snowball all year. I thought that was just great. I had always wanted to be known as Longshot so I put that down as my nickname and managed to talk Phil Jones into putting his down as Shortshot. And for the rest of the year that’s what she called us.

Sylvia Hadden Hutsell, '64

My memory is that she had a fetish for popping balloons ??❣️I was definitely influenced by her persona and teaching skills, as well as other excellent teachers: 
J Marshall, MH McGinty, R McAuliffe, E Otwell, W Overstreet, just to name a few. Thank God for excellent teachers who mold and stimulate the hunger that some students have for knowledge. Now a retired educator, I cherish the interactions I had with students as a teacher (English, Latin & German), counselor, and administrator. My focus as an administrator was always to help students first, then teachers – who are so abused in our public system today. Too many school administrators are former coaches who focus on athletics…there’s an opening for debate! Happy Easter to you Musketeers who keep the faith?

Eleanor Hamm Trew, '63

Two Naomi stories…

– I remember when someone finally had the courage to ask her if she was married…  I’ll never forget her answer:  “Only to Shakespeare!”
– Back in ‘those days’ all of our dogs just kinda lived outdoors and roamed the neighborhoods..  I had one named Rebel who somehow discovered that I was at Langford everyday and he could actually find me in any classroom that had windows close to ground level..  Some of the teachers made me call my Mother to come and get him.. Others tried to shoo him away, etc., etc….  But not Naomi!!  Rebel knew every day just what time I’d be in her class and would whine and peep in the window… major distraction, to say the least..
Her solution:  Go to the nearest door and let the dog in…   he’d come lie down by my desk for the rest of the period and that was that!!

May she Rest in Eternal Peace…

Lansing Lee, ‘65

  “Miss Williams” was a treasure.  She was not only a great English teacher, at Langford to so many of us, but she got me started in public speaking and  oratory, as my outside Coach when I entered and won the Optimist Oratorical Contest in the early 1960’s “Optimism, Ingredient for true Leadership”.  This was a  precursor to becoming, in my earlier practice, a lawyer trying cases as Assistant District Attorney,  before juries, in the Richmond/Columbia/Burke County Superior Courts in the early 1980’s, before later moving to Atlanta , and then Washington in the late 1980’s, to become an international lawyer.  Many happy memories, regarding Miss Williams…Thanks, Cynthia, for letting us know about the passing of our beloved teacher, who was larger than life.
  Really continue to appreciate all of your communications, keeping all of us in touch with Richmond Academy in your wonderful “On, on ARC” emails.  Particularly, during current times, for those of us now a long way from Augusta, it is good to hear from hometown roots.  Thanks for all of your work in keeping in touch.

Nancy Isenberg, '65

  Ms Williams was my English teacher in the ?6th grade.  I remember how hard she was and mostly I remember all the essays she made us write. My brain struggled with “The Child is Father to the Man” but boy did I learn how to read between over under and through the lines. It served me well every day – investigate meaning- look beyond yourself-and don’t forget that yours is not the only correct interpretation.
  But about 15! years ago Ms Williams wrote a book and had a book signing in Ann-Toni Estroff’s (of blessed memory) cafe.  My Mom went to get me a copy because she knew I always remembered my teacher – she told me she got to the table and Ms Williams looked up and exclaimed “tell your daughter I always think of her when I assign hard papers because I remember hers “ the concept of the Greek tragedies as seen through the plays of Aeschylus Sophocles and Euripides “She was so over her head and she was such a procrastinator— but she made it with seconds to spare and thanked me for pushing her. And you sold me such pretty shoes with your beautiful white hair”
  Boy was my Mom on top of the world. I had not seen her since I went to college in 1965.


Judy Woodruff, '64

Cynthia, I’m so sad to read this and overwhelmed with memories. How could one teacher have touched the lives of so many when we were at such an impressionable age? Because she was Naomi Williams.  I remember being scared of her and in awe at the same time:  shaking with fright as I stood to try to recite from memory one of Shakespeare’s sonnets or scenes from Hamlet. Her quick, scolding interruption to point out what I’d gotten wrong or left out completely.  She opened my eyes to great literature and drama, taught me to care about words and writing and by daring, helped me begin to overcome a lack of self-confidence. I can see her standing there, stylish dress with high heels, pearl earrings and beautifully coiffed black hair, looking at each of us with her piercing eyes. So hard to realize she was only 31 when I first walked into her 8th grade English class – the most memorable teacher I’ve ever had.  My thoughts are with her family and close friends.

Victoria Gavalas Correa, '63

The class was given a quotation from Literature. We were to find where it came from and who wrote it. I did not do the assignment and went into class with an indescribable sense of dread!!  I just knew Ms Williams was going to call on me for the answer…I just KNEW it!!  In my panic I begged and convinced a classmate to give me the answer….and sure enough, just as I had predicted, Ms Williams called on me!!  I stood up and very confidently announced “my” findings. “IBID”, I said proudly!!!  The classroom burst into a roar of laughter!  And to my shock, so did Ms. Williams!!  Not understanding the laughter, I slithered back into my seat.  When Ms. Williams resumed her composure, she dried her eyes from her tears of laughter and patiently chuckled and explained to me the meaning of the word “ibid.”  It means SAME AS ABOVE!!   I was mortified beyond words and remember the embarrassment to this day!!!!  I often wondered if she remembered the incident!   I learned a lot of lessons that day!!

Ruth Sandiford Garrard, '61

I attended Langford Junior High in the late 50’s. Naomi Williams was my English teacher all 3 years that I was there. She was one of my favorite teachers. I loved being challenged to excel. She was hard but always fair and we knew she cared. I loved diagramming sentences. And every year we studied a different Shakespeare play. I think we had to memorize at least one soliloquy each year. She also challenged me to do creative writing. I still have a play I wrote one of those years. In 1967 I found myself teaching High School English in a rural community. I had just graduated in 1965 with a BS degree in Music Education and had taught music in Dekalb county for a year and a half. I was way out of my comfort zone but relied heavily on all that I had learned from Ms Williams and Ms Braddy at ARC. What wonderful memories we all have of those days so long ago.

Suzanne 'Poppy' Wilson, '63

  Dear Cynthia– I am so glad that you are distributing various students’ stories and memories about Naomi Williams (“Miss Williams”).  I have enjoyed reading them so much, both for what they tell me about Miss Williams’s career and influence long after she was my English teacher at Langford, and also to “catch up” with students whose names I remember, even if I didn’t know them well or at all.  It is so interesting to see how other students experienced her remarkable qualities as a person and a teacher.   They make me wish I had known her better, or, more accurately, had made an effort to know her better.  But she was a bit formable to me then, and I was too intimidated to aspire to friendship, even when, after graduation from college, l lived in Augusta for awhile, so had the opportunity.  I am glad to learn that she lived such a long and full life, maintaining relationships with many of her students. 
  I knew “of” Miss Williams before I actually met her in the classroom;  she had a reputation as a strict, demanding, and somewhat eccentric teacher. I remember clearly how, without fail, she enjoyed a cup of coffee–not only in the classroom, but during class!–every single day.  It might have been that my class was a morning class; I never wondered until now whether she kept it going all day.  And it was no paper or styrofoam cup–not even a mug–but an actual china cup with a handle, which rested on a saucer on her desk.
  Hers was the first class in which I thought of myself as an adult, in that she taught just one subject–English–not the gamut of subjects that elementary school teachers were responsible for.  And her command of her subject–every aspect of it–was masterful.  I think she also treated us as adults in the way she spoke to us, and the manner in which she made her expectations clear.  And, didn’t she call us by our last names?  I have a very clear recollection of the day in her class each student was supposed to recite a passage from “The Merchant of Venice” that we had memorized.   I had concentrated on memorizing Portia’s speech on “the quality of mercy,” and had practiced reciting it at home.   The day for the recitation came; she called on me.   I remember her saying something like, “come on, Miss Wilson:  show us how it’s done.”   I had no idea how “it was done,” but I went ahead.   It was a blur then, and is still kind of a blur, but I must have acquitted myself decently, because no unfortunate consequences ensued.    To this day, I can recite that passage from memory.
  Many years later, on a visit to Augusta, I encountered Miss Williams in the King’s Way beauty parlor.  She looked exactly as I remembered her. I went over to speak to her, and recall her greeting me pleasantly and asking, “now, did I teach your child?”  While I was crestfallen she didn’t remember me, or perhaps had me confused with someone else, at the same time I felt a sense of satisfaction at meeting her again, and at knowing that, with the inimitable Miss Williams still teaching, the world was as it should be.

Robin McKnight Armstrong, '64

  My two top memories are of assignments.  Have we forgotten the thirty Greek myths she had us read for homework, then questioned us in front of the class for details?   I think not.  I had a decent memory of those myths for many years to come!
  Next, a writing assignment.: a short story with a familiar setting and characters.  Well, I chose Mexico.  The familiar was about a girl, what she did, said and ate.  I wanted to write about something romantic and exotic!   Miss Williams was kind enough afterwards in the evaluation at her desk to commend me for the research I must have done.  She did not chastise, except to give it a C.
  In his tribute, Thomas Mobley solved a mystery for me.  Now I know why Miss Williams  always called my sister Frissy “Harriet”,  though no one else did, not even our parents.  By the way, Frissy was another of Miss Williams’ pets, so that was a blessing for me who followed two years behind.
  Don’t we all remember with admiration how she could raise one eyebrow and give that all knowing look?  ( I practiced that at home to no avail.). To Miss Williams!!   How deserving she is of praise!  May her memory be eternal!

Allen Clarkson, '61

I remember her particularly appreciating Lyn Maxwell because Lyn did everything to near perfection. OTOH, Miss Williams was quick to applaud anybody’s work if it showed real effort and/or creativity. I still feel a sense of accomplishment and warmth when I recall her telling me once that I had written something in class that was worthwhile and reading it to the class – I can close my eyes and see her buck-tooth smile and exposed upper gum when she read it. Now that I’m remembering, I also remember a homework paper she liked. Common between them was I picked something that had a strong emotional tie. While her class was the beginning and the ending of any creative writing I ever did, that experience still affects me.


I had Miss Williams for two years of the most instructive and beneficial terror of my entire school career. She instilled in me a love of Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, New York Times crossword puzzles, and puns that continue to enrich my life. She was a real piece of work, and I mourn her passing.

Ronald Thomason, '66

I had Miss Williams for two years of the most instructive and beneficial terror of my entire school career. She instilled in me a love of Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, New York Times crossword puzzles, and puns that continue to enrich my life. She was a real piece of work, and I mourn her passing.

Pam May Stanfield, '66

I remember writing a paper for Miss Williams and had spent hours perfecting it. I am pretty sure it was a reflection paper on either As You Like It or Romeo and Juliet. I was devastated when the paper was returned with a grade of C. I did not do C work! I remember getting up the nerve to approach her after class to ask why my grade was a C. She stared at me and said “Miss May, I know what the scholars think about this piece of work. I wanted to know what YOU thought.” That was the first time I realized that my opinions and thoughts as a writer mattered. She allowed me to resubmit the paper which she then graded again and that version was an A paper. The grade that was recorded in her grade book was an average of the two – a B – one of the most cherished B’s I received. In 2002, I received an autographed copy of her novel Two Rivers as a birthday gift, which I still have and treasure. I went on to become both a teacher and a writer and know that Miss Williams played a part in those career choices. Those were special days and special times…