Peyton Williams Jr. 69: Life-long educator, trailblazer

Peyton Williams Jr. went from attending the Cochran Colored High School to retiring from the Georgia Department of Education as one of the highest-ranking educators in the state.

In between, he earned four degrees and established several educational benchmarks.

A former teacher and principal, by the time Dr. Williams retired as deputy state superintendent of schools in 2002, he had spent a lifetime either in the classroom or developing educational policies.

"Education was really important to him.He instilled in us that nobody can take your education away from you," said Dr. Williams' daughter, Rachelle Williams. "He had a particular interest in mentoring young, African American males and was committed to making certain that he gave them opportunities to improve upon and further their educations."

Peyton Williams Jr. died Sunday of heart failure at Emory University Hospital Midtown. He was 69. The funeral will be Saturday at 11 a.m. at Mount Vernon Baptist Church, 441 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Burial will follow at Westview Cemetery.

Dr. Williams was born April 10, 1942 in Cochran to the Rev. Peyton Williams and Georgia Reddick Williams.

He was the valedictorian of his 1960 graduating class at Cochran Colored High School. Gwendolyn Williams McMullins, Dr. Williams' sister said their first grade teacher, Daisy Jones, would make them books with images of black children in them when the second-hand books discarded by the white schools proved insufficient.

That had a lasting impact on her brother, who decided to teach and enrolled at Fort Valley State College, where he pledged Omega Psi Phi fraternity before graduating in 1964.

"My brother always strived for excellence in everything he did. He just gave of himself. No matter who it was," said Mrs. McMullins, who also attended Fort Valley. "In fact, I met my husband, through my brother. Because he was always in his room. I thought he was his roommate."

On June 21, 1969, Dr. Williams married Sandra Pryor Williams in Gray, Ga. They had two daughters, Rachelle Williams of Washington, D.C. and Tara Williams of Herndon, Va.

Rachelle Williams said aside from nature, gardening and traveling, Dr. Williams had a keen interest in British films and television.

"He was very interested in the lives of the Royal Family and read a lot of books about them," said Ms. Williams, adding that her father also had a beautiful tenor voice.

Dr. Williams earned a masters in education from Tuskegee Institute in 1968, followed by an educational specialist degree from the University of Georgia in 1977 and a doctorate from Georgia State University in 1982.

In between his academic pursuits, Dr. Williams also established his own credentials. In 1964, he got his first job as an assistant principal of Central High School in Sylvania. By 1968, he was principal of Central Elementary School. In 1970, he became principal of Central Middle School in Screven County, where he remained until he left to join the DOE in 1977.

In 1995, he was named Deputy Georgia State School Superintendent for External Affairs. Former Gov. Zell Miller also appointed him co-facilitator of the Georgia P-16 Initiative, a statewide effort to raise expectations and ensure student success.

Aside from his wife of Atlanta, his daughters and his sister, Dr. Williams is survived by one brother, Clarence Williams of Atlanta.