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Lancaster’s Louise Williams gets a note from the first lady

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by Bernard Harris, Lancaster Online

louisewilliamsAs a gift from her son, Louise Williams got a matched pair of picture books.

The books are of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, and each includes snapshots and memos stuck inside as though they were scrapbooks.

Those snapshots are stock photos and the memos are, of course, from a mass printing.

But on Friday, Williams got an authentic keepsake of her own: a signed letter from Michelle Obama.

“I was really taken aback,” Williams said. “I was surprised, and pleasantly so. It’s an honor. I don’t know that I deserve all of that.”

The letter offered congratulations for Williams’ receipt of the Jean Kohr award earlier this year from The Women’s Alliance.

Maybe Williams should not have been so surprised. She and Michelle Obama both are firsts. The letter from the nation’s first black first lady was sent to Pennsylvania’s first female black district justice, the first black woman on the state Board of Pardons and the first black woman to be president of Lancaster City Council.

But Williams, 72, said the letter came out of the blue. She did not meet either of the Obamas during his three campaign appearances in Lancaster last year. At the first of those, last winter, Obama spoke at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, only a block from Williams’ South Franklin Street home.

Although she is a member of the city Democratic committee, she did not actively campaign for Obama.

Williams said she has read about Michelle Obama, respects her and sees her as a role model. “I see her as being very influential among women. I see her setting a trend among young African-American women coming along,” said Williams.

The letter addresses Williams as “Judge,” the title she held for more than 27 years as district judge in the southeast part of the city.

Although she stepped down from that position in 2000, she still is called judge by attorneys and police officers.

And, she said, she is regularly recognized on the street by people who tell her she married them. Williams said she must have performed wedding ceremonies for thousands of people during her time on the bench.

She also is regularly recognized by people who appeared before her for other reasons. The running joke during her run for City Council four years ago were the people who told her they would vote for her even though she had sent them to jail, she said.

“I never had any problems,” Williams recalled of her time presiding on the lowest level of the court system.

“I tried to be fair to people. I was hard. People knew it. That’s just the way it was,” she said.

Williams said she will frame the letter. “It’s really a very, very special gift to pass down to my children and grandchildren,” she said.

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Written by Symphony

July 30, 2009 at 9:18 pm

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