NEW GLASGOW, N.S. - A local woman who left her mark in her community, her faith and in newsprint passed away at the Aberdeen Hospital Wednesday.
Aleta Williams, 94, was known to many in Pictou County for her kindness and strong sense of community. At a young age, she graduated from Maritime Business College and from there went to work in the Halifax dockyards. Marriage brought her to New Glasgow where she and her husband Murray raised their seven children, Murleta, Marty, Norma, Charla, Renny, Kerry and Julia.
She volunteered her time with the Canadian Girls in Training and was choir director of the Baptist Youth Fellowship at Second United Baptist Church in New Glasgow. She has a 70-year history of playing the organ in churches of many denominations. Believing music is as important as academics, she had all seven of her children in piano lessons at the same time and she was a passionate supporter of Pictou County’s Kiwanis Music Festival. It was also she who handled the results of the weeks-long festival year after year.
“She was always a happy and jovial person,” said Rev. Morley Shaw of New Glasgow. “I really noticed that every time I looked down from the pulpit. She would always smile.”
Shaw said Williams was “a good mother” who served her family and community well and always with a good sense of fashion. “She was well known for her hats. She was a lovely, lovely person.”
Active from an early age in the Halifax YWCA, Aleta, as a young mother, was one of the key players in bringing a YM-YWCA to New Glasgow. In later years, she worked doggedly with others to provide a palliative care program at Aberdeen Hospital. Between those two projects, she served on a large number of boards and committees.
She was also a member of the board of the United Way of Pictou County, the African United Baptist Association, AUBA Women’s Institute, Black United Front of Nova Scotia, Pictou County Council of Churches, Pictou County Seniors Festival and Aberdeen Hospital Palliative Care. Her volunteerism did not go unnoticed as she was the recipient of awards from the Black Cultural Centre, United Way, Pictou County Music Festival as well as a cultural heritage award from the Town of New Glasgow to name a few.
“I have been here (in Pictou County) since 1989 and what always amazed me was her quiet gentleness and anything you asked her do, it was done excellently,” said Rev. Dr. Glen Matheson of New Glasgow.
Many people will remember Williams for her career accomplishment as the first African Nova Scotian to work in the province’s mainstream media.
But this wasn’t the job that Williams was looking for when she sat down for an interview with Harry Sutherland, owner of The Evening News, now known as The News. She had applied for a position in business administration but Sutherland was so impressed with her, he asked her to work in his editorial department. She accepted and within a few months was named women’s editor.
“Aleta is a true pillar in her community and has been a trailblazer her entire life, without even realizing it,” said Jackie Jardine, editor of the Pictou Advocate and former community editor at The News. “She went to work at a time when most women were just entering the workforce and continued to work long after retirement. In fact, she was still writing newspaper columns when she was well into her 80s.”
For 20 years, she worked as family and community editor for The Evening News and was known for putting people at ease. Widowed at a young age and while most of her children were still at home, she never missed their school, music or sports events. Nor did she cut back on her commitments to her church or her community involvement.
“As a journalist, she knew her community,” said Dave Glenen, regional editor for Nova Scotia for SaltWire Network. “As we chased the fires, the mayors, the crime, she sought out the ordinary and drew out their stories. While most hoped not to be a target of some of our stories, all celebrated being in one of Aleta’s. It was common to hear on the weekends, people talking about the latest Aleta feature.”
Throughout her career she believed passionately that everyone has a story to tell and immediately put people at ease in the telling while she listened without judgment. Her writings, saved in many treasured family scrapbooks and memory boxes, are a rich tapestry of Pictou County’s social history. They record the trials and triumphs of miners’ widows, ministers of congregations, kitchen entrepreneurs, social advocates, volunteers and hard-working people just trying to stretch a dollar to feed a family – in short, all people who are unlikely to appear in our conventional history books.
Williams entered the field of journalism in the days of shorthand, typewriters, carbon paper, box cameras and ticker tape but through 40 years of change, her curiosity, her empathy, her commitment to do right by the people she covered and her adherence to deadlines remained constant.
Details of funeral arrangements will be announced in the near future.