The Alberta education community mourns the passing of Mary-Jo Williams, a trailblazer and advocate who left an indelible mark on the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) and the field of education. Williams, who passed away in July after a brief battle with cancer, was known for her ground-breaking achievements, unyielding dedication and commitment to Alberta’s teachers.
Williams joined the Association in 1969 and holds the distinction of being the first permanent female staff officer to be hired, as well as the youngest.
Her work for the Association extended well beyond her role in the Professional Development program area, with her serving as an advocate for and a mentor to countless colleagues throughout the province. Through her broad spectrum of work for the Association, she quickly rose to prominence as a staff officer, and, in 1982, became the ATA’s first female coordinator.
Her work opened doors for women in leadership positions within the organization and beyond. Colleagues remember her for her commanding presence, leading the way in a traditionally male-dominated field.
She was a true mentor who suggested rather than directed and had a great ability to anticipate outcomes.
“She was a true mentor who suggested rather than directed and had a great ability to anticipate outcomes,” said Dean McMullen, a former staff officer with the ATA. “ I am proud to have been a member of an outstanding team of PD staff officers with Mary-Jo Williams as our leader”
Williams was known for the close working relationships she developed with the Department of Education and university officials. She excelled at representing the profession, taking policy to government and faculties of education and being successful in achieving member goals.
Amidst her many accomplishments and reflecting her passion for lifelong learning, Williams earned her PhD in education at the University of Alberta.
Williams also enjoyed many notable accomplishments prior to joining the ATA. She was a teacher for the Canadian military in France, Miss Edmonton Eskimo and Miss Grey Cup (1960), a violinist with the University Symphony Orchestra and, as rumour has it, one heck of a bridge player.
Even after her retirement in 1996, Williams remained a vibrant presence within the ATA community. She shared her insights, tirelessly kept up with ATA activities, and engaged with members’ viewpoints by reading through the Annual Representative Assembly resolutions bulletin.
Her passing came as a shock to many who admired her strength. Her legacy lives on in the countless teachers she inspired and the barriers she dismantled. ❚