Community leaders, local politicians and aid organizations in Spokane mourned on Tuesday the death of Sandy Williams, a storyteller and community advocate who was aboard a plane that crashed Sunday in the Puget Sound.
Visitors began leaving flowers early Tuesday morning at the Carl Maxey Center in the East Central Neighborhood, the community center Williams raised money to build, said Spokane City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson.
“It was just organic,” said Wilkerson , who is also board president at the center “We arrived this morning, and flowers were just in front of the door.”
By the afternoon, the assembled flowers had filled two tables.
“A strong beautiful person (and) leader of the Black community,” Washington Commerce Director Lisa Brown wrote on Twitter. “(Commerce) is honored to have supported projects she envisioned.”
Gov. Jay Inslee expressed condolences to the families of all 10 victims of the crash, which occurred just after 3 p.m. Sunday near Mutiny Bay on Whidbey Island’s western coast. The U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday morning released the names of all passengers presumed dead in the crash, among them Williams and her partner, Patricia Hicks.
“Sandy gave so much to Washington and particularly the Spokane community,” Inslee said in a statement. “We join them in mourning this loss.”
Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward said Tuesday that Williams, who founded and published the Black Lens newspaper, “poured her heart and soul into the toughest of conversations.”
“When Sandy spoke, people listened, because she took the time to listen first,” Woodward said in a video statement.
Woodward on Tuesday directed that all flags at city facilities fly at half-staff in honor of Williams until sunset Friday, encouraging businesses and residents to do the same.
“Spokane lost an amazing leader, teacher and truth-teller this weekend,” Nikki Lockwood, a member of the Spokane School Board of Directors, wrote on Twitter, sharing a picture of herself and Williams. “It’s devastating news and my love goes out to her loved ones.”
“Huge loss,” wrote Jon Snyder, a former Spokane City Council member who is now an outdoor recreation policy adviser to Inslee. “I will greatly miss Sandy and her contributions to our state.”
State Rep. Marcus Riccelli shared a photo with Williams and a T-shirt for the Maxey Center.
“Sandy Williams was a warrior for all those systematically oppressed,” Riccelli said. “This is a tragic loss for Spokane and our state.”
Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh also released a statement expressing condolences. Williams’ father, Thomas, was a longtime ROTC instructor at the school and she was an avid fan of Gonzaga basketball. Williams had also spoken at Gonzaga on local racial issues and more.
“This weekend, our community has tragically lost a leader, teacher, activist (and) powerful voice,” McCulloh wrote on Twitter. “I am devastated to learn of Sandy Williams’ passing and we (at Gonzaga) extend our condolences to her family, many friends and colleagues.”
The YWCA of Spokane said staff members reflected on Williams’ influence on the community after her death was publicly announced. Williams had worked in supporting youth suicide prevention, providing support to young LGBTQ community members and as a member of the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs.
“This is absolutely devastating,” Regina Malveaux, past CEO of YWCA Spokane, said in a statement. “Sandy was a quiet, egoless, but tenacious advocate for truth, justice, and community. Her leadership was singular and Spokane will absolutely not be the same without her.”
The Odyssey Youth Movement, which Williams served as an interim executive director, credited her wide-reaching influence on the community.
“We owe so much to Sandy for her tireless advocacy and dedication to equity and justice here in Spokane,” the organization posted to social media on Tuesday.
“Sandy Williams’ service to our community was nothing short of remarkable,” Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said on Twitter. “She was a strong moral voice for Spokane and a tireless advocate for marginalized people everywhere. She helped me become a better person. I am humbled to call her a dear friend and will miss her profoundly.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington described Williams as a “distinguished civil rights activist and journalist.”
“We are devastated at the tragic loss of Sandy Williams, a bright light in the fight for truth, racial justice and equity in Spokane and in Washington. Sandy touched the lives of so many in Spokane and across the state,” Michele Storms, executive director of ACLU Washington, said in a statement. “Even as we mourn, we are inspired by her life of leadership and service and by the legacy that she established.”
Members of the Eastern Washington University community celebrated Williams’ achievements while working at the school, including establishing in 2010 the university’s Pride Center, which provides support and assistance to the school’s LGBTQ+ population.
“The loss of Sandy Williams is the loss of a bright light when racism, sexism, homophobia, and other inequities surfaced. Sandy was a force, a phenom, a steady and influential presence that provided hope for so many people in the City of Spokane and beyond,” Shari J. Clarke, the university’s vice president for diversity and senior diversity officer, said in a statement to students and staff. “Beneath her calm, brilliant demeanor Sandy worked diligently for fairness and recognition for diverse people.”
Wilkerson said the Maxey Center is planning a vigil, and that details would be available later this week.