Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Ouida (Welch) Williams 1/21/31 – 4/26/2020, Rest in Peace

by Don Williams, April 29, 2020 -Listen. The spirit of a larger than life East Tennessee personality now sings among the trees and
flowers and in the hearts and minds of her many friends, admirers, and relations. Ouida Faye Welch Williams--who was known to burst into song from time to time--died quietly in her sleep April 26 in Knoxville. She was 89. Among her last words were, "I'm not afraid, and I'm not worried. I'll be okay. I've lived a wonderful life. I have the best family in the world."

Her first name, Ouida, was pronounced WE-da, and a pet peeve was when people turned that O into a Q in print. When we did it as a joke, she usually detected the prank and laughed along. Known for her humor, artistry, courage, resilience, and boundless love of nature, she had a deep and abiding faith. She shared her love of nature and her love of God with everyone she knew, instilling a love of our sometimes crazy world in her accomplished children and grandchildren.

She daily pointed out to us nature's wonders, from technicolor sunsets to slippery salamanders. Such wonders were reflected in the landscapes and portraits she began painting about middle age, and which often won ribbons at fairs. It was also reflected in several poems that saw publication.

An avid reader, she was an accomplished student growing up in Sparta and Caryville, Tennessee, where she skipped two complete grades before her junior year. She recited poems, read the entire set of an encyclopedia and knew most of the Bible by heart.

She often spoke fondly of her childhood, and especially loved living among wooded hills overlooking Caryville, where she was often assigned to draw water from a spring for her mother and two siblings. She loved following deer trails into the woods to make moss-lined castles out of stumps, where she chased blue-tailed lizards and squirrels and birds that sang among the trees and rock formations.

In 1946 she met the love of her life, Ladonuel "Don" Williams, a handsome man who'd just returned from Europe after fighting in the Battle of the Bulge during WWII. A Gospel singer who could whistle like a bird--literally, with chirps and trills unlike any whistler you ever heard--he embarked upon a singing ministry in the 1950s with a guitar player named Earl Mays. Soon the music of "Don and Earl" could be heard on radios all over the United States and in several foreign countries.

Ouida and Don
Rather than pursuing her ambitions, Ouida followed Don with her growing family, in service to his ministry. They lived in South Carolina and Texas among other places before settling in East Tennessee. In 1957 they moved to a stone house in Seymour, TN.

There the couple raised five children among hills, woodlands, creeks and caves that spelled adventure and magic. She encouraged her children to take long hikes and bike rides, and sometimes led them to a new spring where she showed them minnows and craw-daddies, ferns and flowers and other wonders like those she'd loved growing up. She and Don grew giant gardens and harvested as many as 100 quarts of tomatoes or blackberries some summers.

She fed her spiritual needs at Bells Chapel Baptist Church, where she sang and taught Sunday School and directed a youth choir, and later at Valley Grove, where her membership remained until her death. Sometimes it seemed she had nine lives, overcoming car wrecks, broken bones, a cancer scare, burst appendix, diabetes, a pancreas operation and much else. Perhaps her greatest challenge, however, was when her husband died of cancer in March, 1985.

After her husband’s death, Ouida swam away her sorrow and then sought work in stores and shops and took temporary assignments--such as U.S. Census work--before settling into a clerical job at the Sevier County Health Department. Although a widow for 35 years, she remained true to her lamented first love, and even published a poem about his good looks, "The Man Who Loved Mirrors."

She watched with pride as her children grew into accomplished grownups. Her son Rod, an Air Force veteran, served ten years as a Nashville Metro Councilman and now runs one of Nashville's most successful blogs. Her daughter Rebecca's floral creations from her own cut flower farm, Sycamore Creek, have graced numerous weddings and funerals. Her middle child, also named Don Williams, became a prizewinning writer, columnist and publisher. Tim is co-founder and CEO of 21st Mortgage, one Knoxville's largest employers. Kathleen was so inspired by her experiences among woods and trees that she founded the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation, now known as TennGreen, that has saved untold natural wonders from reckless development.

Along the way her children introduced their children and grandchildren to Nana or Granny Ouida, as she's often called. Without exception they adore her and not so long ago looked forward to seeing Nana, for stories or songs or exploring with her or swimming in wild rivers or the ocean. This grand and gracious woman's spirit now rolls down the ages and sings among the trees. Listen. Maybe now she knows how much she's loved.

She is preceded in death by her late husband Ladonuel "Don" Williams; her mother Lena (Carter) Welch Simmons Fowler and father Basil Welch; her sister and brother-in-law Lila Jane McCalman and Pete McCalman, and her brother Basil Welch. She is survived by two daughters, Rebecca Mandel (Dale) and Kathleen Williams-Mooradian (Don); three sons Rod Williams (Louella) Don Williams (Jeanne) and Tim Williams (Amy); grandchildren Wayne Williams (Misty), Jenny Cook (Brian), Rachel Bennett (Joshua), Alexis Williams (Brent), Travis Williams (Carrie), Justin Williams (Magye); Rebecca Moody (Jonathan) and Joey Mooradian; sister and brother-in-law Linda Upchurch and Richard Upchurch; sister-in-law Shirley Welch; eleven great-grandchildren and numerous beloved nieces and nephews. Special thanks to her recent companion Cheri Spivey and her friends Marty, Anna and the Seymour Library Book Club and her little dog Oreo too.

The family will have a private graveside service and a memorial service will be held at a later date. Condolences can be made to Gentry Griffith Funeral Home, Knoxville. The family is requesting that in lieu of flowers contributions may be made to FOSL, Seymour Branch Library, 137 W. Macon Lane, Seymour, TN 37865.

The above tribute was penned by my brother Don. Ouida was my mother.  She was someone that it was joyous to be around. Her wonder and excitement of nature and beauty and so many things was contagious. She was a wonderful mother.  I am going to miss her so much. Rod

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  1. My sincere condolences and my mother's middle name was Ouida, and this is about the 2nd person, I heard of with that name. Again my condolences, but it brought me some nice memories of my mother. Thank you

  2. My condolences to you and your family on the loss of your mother. May she rest in peace.