Much of my life has been lived in such secrecy. It has never been politic for me to let another know my heart. —John Williams, Augustus
Nancy Gardner Williams, John Williams’s widow, lives in a small bungalow in Pueblo, Colorado, close to the desert. This town near the Rocky Mountains was once known for its steel industry. Nancy, a tall woman who holds herself straight, is attentive and observant, friendly yet somewhat reserved. She is not decisively talkative, but you realize immediately that she and her husband must have been on equal terms. “No bluster, no fashion, no pomp,” as Dan Wakefield once remarked about John Williams. That seems to be true for her as well. Nancy studied English literature at the University of Denver. One of her lecturers was John Williams.
Ms. Williams, you met John in Denver in 1959. He was your professor. What was he like?
He always wore an ascot and was always smoking cigarettes, even while he was lecturing. I don’t think he ever came to teach not wearing his ascot. And he was a good teacher. He fancied his stuff neat, and had a neat and tidy demeanor.
He came from a rather poor background.
Yes, his family was poor. His mother loved to read true-romance magazines. When he was twelve years old, he got a little job at the bookstore in town, and the guy in the bookstore took an interest in him. Sometimes John would find his mother crying, but those were tough times, my God. It’s hard to imagine, the worry and pressure to make enough money to have food on the table. They farmed, so they did have food. John once showed me the farm. It was very small, a small building, small acreage. Read More