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Doris Mellema Williams always rose to the challenge

Doris Mellema Williams won Safety Harbor’s 1981 election with nearly twice as many votes as her opponent.

Times files (1982)

Doris Mellema Williams won Safety Harbor’s 1981 election with nearly twice as many votes as her opponent.

PALM HARBOR — Doris Williams wasn't one to shy away from a challenge.

"She spent 24 years at General Motors, was a union steward at the same time, ran two convenience stores and raised four kids without a husband," said her husband, John Williams, 87, of Palm Harbor.

After all that, Williams — who was Doris Mellema at the time — made local history when she was elected Safety Harbor's first female mayor in 1981.

Williams died of natural causes Tuesday at Mease Dunedin Hospital. She was 83.

Williams was born in Nashville, Tenn., and worked in her grandfather's country store in Baxter, Tenn., as a child. She moved to Safety Harbor from Detroit in 1975 with her then-husband, Donald A. Morgan, who later died.

Williams opened a small supermarket, Three D's, on Main Street, and quickly immersed herself in civic life, serving on the city's community development board and bicentennial committee.

In 1977, she was appointed to the City Commission to fill a vacancy and was re-elected in 1978 and 1980. In 1981, she ran for mayor, winning the office by nearly twice as many votes as her opponent.

But in 1982, Mellema abruptly resigned and vice mayor John Williams was appointed as mayor. Folks in Safety Harbor soon learned why Mellema had resigned — she and Williams, a widower who lived across the street, had struck up a friendship that had blossomed into romance.

In September 1982, two weeks after the change of command, the two were married. John Williams, a former oil company executive, served as mayor until 1984.

The couple spent many years in Key West, managing hotels and a marina, and went on several cruises in retirement, John Williams said.

Doris Williams funded the costumes for the city's bicentennial celebration out of her own pocket and started the annual Christmas parade, John Williams said.

"She was the classic overachiever," said her son, Jim Williams Jr., 58, of Holiday.

In addition to her husband and son, Doris Williams is survived by two other children, six stepchildren, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. today at Curlew Hills Funeral Home, 1750 Curlew Road, with burial to follow at Curlew Hills Memorial Gardens.

Asked once about her political aspirations, Doris Williams told a newspaper reporter that she just couldn't help but be involved in her community.

"I'm interested in everything. I think that's what it's all about … helping people and making this city a better place to live in."

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

Doris Mellema Williams always rose to the challenge 04/21/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 21, 2011 7:53pm]
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