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Aleta Williams

Aleta Williams – Letter of Nomination Atlantic Journalism Hall of Fame
Throughout her 94 years Aleta Williams has forged many paths, all in her own careful, determined and cheerful way. Her family, her church, her community and her profession as a journalist have been the pillars of a remarkable life.
Aleta was a busy mother of seven when she applied to work in the business department of The Evening News in New Glasgow. She so impressed Editor Harry Sutherland that he offered her a job in the editorial department instead. In accepting that offer, she became the first African Nova Scotian to work in the province’s mainstream media. Within months she was promoted to women’s editor, a lone woman in a newsroom full of men.
For 20 years she worked as women’s, then family and then community editor of the Evening News, now The News.  For the better part of the next two decades, she contributed regular articles and columns.  She interviewed leaders in education, religion and community action but she also chronicled countless stories of the people she enjoyed most, “ordinary, everyday folks.” 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 scrap books 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.
Aleta 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. If anyone had a problem with her gender or her skin colour, that was never Aleta’s problem.
Barely able to see over a steering wheel, she liked big cars and drove them fast but always insisted it was only that she had so many places to be. Her intuitive judgment and her unfailing dependability won her a free rein in the newsroom where she set the paper’s path by frequently insisting that women’s issues were family issues and family issues were community issues.
When future Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was campaigning for a seat in Central Nova in 1983, his handlers frustrated local media by keeping them at a distance. Aleta quietly took advantage of the campaign’s focus to slip away to Pictou Lodge, where the Mulroneys were staying, and have a wide-ranging conversation with Mila Mulroney. She was delighted with her woman-to-woman interview and equally delighted by the disbelief of her “hard news” co-workers. She even managed to bring back a favourite Mulroney family recipe.
Widowed 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. Instead, she frequently slipped back into the news office to work late at night, always scribbling notes for story ideas she picked up on the run. Too often her nights were longer than they would have been had she been less generous with her time but shortchanging anyone was never Aleta’s way.
For most of her years at The News, hers was the first desk the public arrived at, the desk co-workers avoided like the plague. She comforted grieving families struggling with obituary details, she kindly but ever-so-firmly outlined the paper’s court policy and she helped people in every way possible. Long before networking had a name, Aleta was a master at it. Her hand never far from her rotary dial phone, she frequently connected the disadvantaged with community services, the needy with advocates and project enthusiasts with supportive sponsors. As a journalist, she was not obliged to but as a citizen she felt she was.
As town council, school board and sports stories flew back and forth across the newsroom between editors and reporters, she had an uncanny ability to insert an obvious but overlooked point. It might be about the tax rate, school curriculum or fair play but when Aleta spoke up, everyone listened and, more often than not, rewriting was in order. Long before she became a journalist she was a bill payer, a property owner, a wife and a mother with many obligations so she naturally mentored young reporters who were sometimes too inexperienced to thoroughly appreciate the scope of their stories.
Aleta’s approach to journalism was rooted in her own upbringing and experience. She graduated from Maritime Business College, an African Nova Scotian in a class of white women. From there she went to work in the Halifax dockyards, a young Black woman in an all-white department. Marriage brought her to New Glasgow and on her wedding day, Viola Desmond, a family friend and the face on our new $10 bill, styled her hair. Her confidence was built on her own accomplishments and convictions. She was barely out of her teens when she began a 70 year ministry of music, playing the organ in her church and churches of all 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. Mercifully, it was she who handled the results of the weeks-long festival year after year.
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 staggering number of boards and committees.  While she never had the means to be a philanthropist, she has always given freely of her time, her skills, her advice and her contacts. All that she has given, she has given with great good humour and continues to do so.  
Aleta’s lifetime, personal and professional, has been spent building bridges for those coming behind her. While there are many who could make an admirable case for her becoming a member of the new Atlantic Journalism Hall of Fame, this nomination comes from four female journalists, three of whom worked with her early in our careers in the seventies, eighties and nineties and a fourth who grew up in her neighbourhood, attending her church. Aleta mentored us, challenged us, inspired us and at times, awed us. We watched her, through good times and tragic times, and she set us a high bar in terms of journalism and in terms of being women in our worlds. She is, in our collective view, a woman who has been a credit to her profession and a woman who deserves her roses in her lifetime. Happily, our nomination is enthusiastically supported by The News, now owned by SaltWire Network.

Rosalie MacEachern
Freelance writer
r.maceachern@ns.sympatico.ca


Re AJA Hall of Fame Nomination: Aleta Williams
When I first started working at The Evening News, Aleta Williams greeted me with a warm smile and filled me in on her family’s latest news as if I had grown up with them.  I quickly noticed as she made her way through the office, she spoke to everyone by name, asked about their families and spoke of her own.
She started at The News as a reporter many years before I arrived, became a family editor of long-standing and was best known for her Girl Friday column about everyday people in Pictou County who made a difference in the lives of others. She and I shared many a night working side by side at our computers, meeting deadlines and sharing snacks, while discussing the finer points of journalism and life.
By the time Aleta gave up fulltime work at The News, she had earned her retirement but we were delighted to welcome her back as a freelance columnist when she realized she still had stories she wanted to tell. Her columns were always thoughtful and refreshing so as journalists we were proud to be associated with her.
There was no professional Aleta that was separate from the private Aleta. As a result, we came to understand many of her influences as a journalist. I particularly came to admire her strong sense of faith and how it gave her strength in even the darkest of times. She has experienced tragedy, but she accepted it and as a journalist and a woman, showed great empathy for the tragedy in the lives of others. To this day, she relishes the good times and never dwells on the bad.
Aleta comes with her own style, in journalism and in life. When many of her co-workers joined family and friends for a recent birthday party, I looked around and found the birthday girl in an elegant silver dress and wide-brimmed hat, straight out of Buckingham Palace and perfectly fitting for the lady she is.  She was among a hall packed with people, among her readers and interview subjects, and she was happy.  
Through hard work, quiet determination, openness of spirit and unflagging kindness she gave shape to the stories of everyday people for decades and in the process, she surely shaped the younger journalists who watched and worked with her.
I am sure Aleta’s induction would bring nothing but honour to the Atlantic Journalism Hall of Fame.
Sueann Musick
Community editor/reporter, The News, smusick@ngnews.ca, 902-928-3513
NGNews.ca · 352 East River Road, New Glasgow, NS, B2H 3P7

To Whom It May Concern:
Throughout my 30 years in journalism, I have had the opportunity to work with some great
journalists, people who could see a story hidden deep inside an issue no one else knew was
there, or those who never shied away from a fire or crash, or those who would camp outside a
politician’s home for that one quote.
But in all of those years, there has only been one person who truly defined what it was to be a
community journalist.
Aleta Williams was running the lifestyle pages of The Evening News when I joined the paper in
1988. Her desk faced the door and she was the one who greeted those who came in. There
was always a sense of warmth in her smile and welcome in the way she talked to people,
whether they had a story to tell or a complaint to file against the paper.
As a journalist, she knew her community. 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 weekends
people talking about the latest Aleta feature.
Her love of community could easily be seen in the pages of her section of the paper, often
overflowing with submissions from people who wanted to be a part of it.
For years, she was also the lone reporter who followed the local youth music festival, an event
that would attract school bands, choirs, and soloists from across Nova Scotia. In later years, as
her hearing failed, she would be front and centre in the audience with a support system around
her who would help her with names and scores. It is this fact that a support system existed to
help her shows how much of an impact she had on our readers and the level of importance they
held for her in the community.
I proudly support her nomination for inclusion in the Atlantic Journalism Hall of Fame as an
outstanding community journalist who never lost sight of her readers and her stories.
Regards,

Dave Glenen

Regional Editor for Nova Scotia
Saltwire Network and The News, New Glasgow (formerly The Evening News)
aleta williams

Feb. 1, 2018
Re: Nomination for Aleta Williams
It gives me great honour to write this letter of support for Mrs. Aleta Williams’ inclusion in the Atlantic Journalism Hall of Fame
Mrs. Williams is a much-respected and loved elder in the African-Nova Scotian community. Growing up in New Glasgow, Mrs. Williams was the only professional Black journalist I knew. Throughout her career as a reporter and columnist with the New Glasgow Evening News, she provided a voice for common folks, including those in my neighbourhood.  She continued to write columns well into her senior years.  With so few Black journalists in Nova Scotia, members of my community were excited to see Mrs. Williams’ profile picture and read her column in our local newspaper!
Mrs. Williams’ mentorship as my leader in Canadian Girls in Training and choir director of the Baptist Youth Fellowship at Second United Baptist Church in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, impacted my life immensely. She taught me and so many other young girls in my community proper etiquette, morals and how to be ladies. I have carried these lessons into adulthood.
As a result of Mrs. Williams’impact on my life, I went on to become an accomplished, professional journalist. Until recently, I worked as a newspaper reporter for 21 years. I now work for a national broadcaster.
I admired Mrs. Williams greatly because she worked outside the home as an editorial writer while raising a large family. Despite these two demanding commitments, she still found time to actively volunteer for her church and in the community. She was a long-time, dedicated organist at Second United Baptist Church in New Glasgow.
Mrs. Williams became a widow long before her family was raised and provided compassionate, long-term care to her mother-in-law and father-in-law when the need arose. She is selfless, never seeks praise and is a woman of great personal and professional integrity. For many years she served as a wonderful model for anyone with an interest in journalism. 
For your consideration,
Sherri Borden Colley
Sherri Borden Colley
91 Boyd Avenue
Enfield, Nova Scotia
B2T 1L3
Phone: 902-220-5403