Joseph B. Williams

The Baltimore Sun

Joseph B. Williams, former aide to three Baltimore County public schools superintendents and a founder of Alternatives Unlimited, a national educational services company, died of complications from diabetes at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. The Pikesville resident was 72.

Born in Gettysburg, Pa., Mr. Williams moved to Baltimore, where he attended Douglass High School. He earned his General Educational Development certificate while serving in the Army Transportation Corps from 1957 to 1959.

Mr. Williams, who attended what is now Morgan State University, briefly owned and operated a restaurant before taking a job at Revere Copper and Brass Co. in Southwest Baltimore.

During the 1970s, he worked as a laborer at Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point plant, and then became a Baltimore County public schools custodian.

In 1985, Mr. Williams became an aide to school Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel at the Baltimore County Board of Education's Greenwood campus on North Charles Street, and he subsequently served under successor superintendents Stuart Berger and Anthony G. Marchione.

"He was our major-domo. He'd drive people, prepare food for meetings, and do whatever was needed to be done," Dr. Berger said "He was a very funny and kind guy who cared about people. He was both gentle and outgoing."

When Mr. Williams retired in 1997, he joined Dr. Berger and Nicholas Spinatto in establishing Alternatives Unlimited.

"Alternatives Unlimited provides under contract to urban and suburban schools programs that help emotionally disturbed students or students who are not successful in public schools achieve. We operate a number of programs, including after-school tutoring," Dr. Berger said.

"I couldn't have done it without Joe, and I was glad that he had lived long enough to see the company grow and become profitable," Dr. Berger said.

"Joe did all of the driving for the company and other jobs," said Lenora J. Gholson, who is vice president of business services for the Towson-based company.

"He was a very jolly man, and when he was in the office, no work got done because he kept us all in stitches. He was well-loved," Ms. Gholson said.

Mr. Williams was also known for his style.

"He certainly was a snappy dresser, and when he walked into a room or one of our parties, he became the life of the party," she said.

A jazz fan, Mr. Williams had an extensive collection of jazz recordings and liked frequenting local jazz clubs.

"He was a founder of the Left Bank Jazz Society and used his extensive knowledge of jazz to lecture on the subject," said a sister, Eleanor Hairston of Seven Valleys, Pa. "He was a big fan of the music of Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Frank Sinatra. His favorite Sinatra song was 'My Way.'"

"For a guy who had very little formal education, Joe was a Renaissance man who had many interests," Dr. Berger said.

Marriages to Magdalena Curry and Elva DeShields ended in divorce.

Mr. Williams was a communicant of St. Pius V Roman Catholic Church on North Schroeder Street.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered for Mr. Williams at 11 a.m. tomorrow at New All Saints Roman Catholic Church, 4400 Liberty Heights Ave.

Also surviving are a brother, James C. Fields of Baltimore; three other sisters, Barbara L. Fields and Mary J. Coates, both of Baltimore, and Teresa C. Hagans of Lorton, Va.; and many nieces and nephews.

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