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The Rev. Harry G. Williams dies

After retiring from St. Anne of Grace Episcopal, he was reordained in the Orthodox Catholic Church of America.

By KRISTINE MILLEN

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 13, 2000


SEMINOLE -- The Rev. Harry G. Williams, founding priest and first rector of St. Anne of Grace Episcopal Church and a longtime radio and television personality, died Saturday at Palms of Pasadena Hospital.

Williams, 74, died of acute leukemia.

The Rev. Williams was ordained in the Episcopal Church at age 50 after a career that began as a disc jockey in Cincinnati in the early 1950s and ended with radio and television shows on topics such as hunting as well as children's programming in St. Petersburg.

He also was vice president of the Al Leno Advertising Agency, St. Petersburg, before becoming director of the St. Anthony's Hospital blood bank in St. Petersburg in the mid-1960s.

After his retirement from St. Anne's in 1992, the Rev. Williams, a Seminole resident, was reordained as a priest in the Orthodox Catholic Church of America.

"His driving force was his love of God and doing God's work. That permeated his very soul and being," said Bill Athanson of Seminole, who served as the Rev. Williams' senior warden at St. Anne's. "He lived his life as an example of what a Christian should be. He loved intensely. He was just a wonderful man to know."

The Rev. Williams was born in Kokomo, Ind., and graduated from Cincinnati College of Music in 1949. His Cincinnati radio career with three stations included a stint as producer of the live variety show Midwestern Hayride, which featured top entertainers of the era such as Doris Day and Rod Serling, said his wife.

In 1956, the Rev. Williams moved to St. Petersburg, where he worked for nearly nine years at the city-owned radio and TV station WSUN at The Pier.

"He was a very well-liked person who always had a smile," said funeral director E. James Reese, whose friendship with the Rev. Williams developed through their business relationship.

Reese also recalled watching the Rev. Williams play the role of Fireman Harry.

"I don't really remember what the program was like, I just remember turning on my black and white television and watching him when I was in elementary school," he said. "He was the sweetest, friendliest person you'd ever want to meet."

His Fireman Harry character, who often donned a cat hand-puppet named Tatoo, earned the Rev. Williams the honorary title of lieutenant with the St. Petersburg Fire Department, said his wife, Mrs. Trudy Williams.

"His children thought he owned all the fire trucks in town," she said.

After the 1971 death of his first wife, Mary, the Rev. Williams turned his attention toward the church, which led him to a full-time ministry at St. Andrew's By the Sea Episcopal Church in Destin.

In 1978, the Rev. Williams earned a master's degree in divinity from General Theological Seminary, New York City. A year later, he was ordained as deacon and priest at St. Peter's Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

From 1980 to 1983, the Rev. Williams was rector and vicar of Church of Our Savior, Lincolntown, N.C. He then came to Seminole to take on the task of shepherding a brand new congregation, St. Anne of Grace Episcopal Church.

The church flourished under his guidance, said Mrs. Williams: growing from 25 members to more than 500 at his retirement.

During his early retirement, the Rev. Williams became attracted to the Orthodox Catholic Church, which bases its rites and beliefs on those of the church in the first centuries of Christianity.

He was reordained into that denomination in 1995 and became involved in the formation of another new congregation. He retired for the final time three years later.

"He loved the Lord so much and always tried to follow his voice," Mrs. Williams said. "He didn't care if it was popular or not; he just said, "Yes, Lord." I've never known anyone more faithful."

The Rev. Williams is survived by his wife of 20 years, Trudy; three sons, Thomas, Kenneth City, Harry D., Pinellas Park, and Timothy, Port Richey; a stepson, David Langdon, Taiwan; three daughters, Barbara Patai, Denver, Kathleen Thomas, Crystal River, and Mary Beth Workman, Woodlands, Texas; 12 grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

The Rev. Williams was a Navy veteran of World War II and a member of St. Jerome Catholic Church, Largo. He was a member of the Holy Cross Society, and a former member of the Episcopal Diocesan Council of Southwest Florida and its lay ministry and communications committees. He was a director for Cursillo, a basic course on Christianity, and was a founding member of the national governing body of the Episcopal Synod of America, and was host of the radio program Sounds of the Southern Cross.

A funeral Mass will be held at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at St. Jerome Catholic Church, 10895 Hamlin Blvd., Largo. Donations may be made to the Scholarship Fund of St. Petersburg Junior College Interpreter Training Program.

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