Spotlight on an Honored Woman: Clara Etta Williams

Clara Etta Williams, 90, was given the title of Most Honored Woman from St. Philip’s, San Antonio, and was recognized among the other congregational honored women at this year’s Commission for Women’s Ministries Luncheon at Diocesan Council in February. Williams, who has been a member of St. Philip’s Church since 1963 was one of the first 12 students to graduate from the nursing program at St. Philip’s Junior College, started by Dr. Artemisia Bowden, recognized saint from the Diocese of West Texas.

clara-etta-brooks-williams---honored-woman-st.-philips-sa-2018-web.jpg“She was a savior to me,” said Williams of Dr. Bowden. “I could not have become the nurse or the woman I am today if I had not been blessed by her.

“I will never be a ‘saint,’ but it’s sure good to have known one,” said Williams on August 18, 2015, when she attended the service at Christ Church, San Antonio, to commemorate the first feast day of Dr. Artemisia Bowden, after the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church approved Bowden’s listing among the saints in “Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints.”

Williams was an honor graduate in the Pre-Nursing Licensed Vocational Nurses Program at St. Philip’s Junior College in 1949, but there was nowhere in San Antonio for her to complete her clinical training because of segregation. Bowden, recognizing this obstacle, set out to fix it. “She found money somewhere, because pennies were very short in these days,” said Williams, as Bowden secured a partnership with both Santa Rosa Hospital and Baptist Hospital in San Antonio for the 12 students in the nursing program. 

Williams attended Texas Southern University in Houston with a scholarship from the Texas TB Association after her clinical training was complete. She then served as a nurse at Santa Rosa Hospital for 25 years. “I worked the 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. night shift, and I earned $114 per month. That was my contribution to my household with my husband and five children,” said Williams, who dreamed of being a nurse since childhood.

While Williams was employed at Santa Rosa Hospital, Bowden was admitted toward the end of her life. Williams was pulled from her regular shift to serve as Bowden’s personal nurse. “I was proud to show her the fruits of her labor,” said Williams.

Due to health concerns, Williams had to quit practicing nursing in 1975, but she worked as a substitute teacher and from-home direct sales. “I did anything I could to help feed all the mouths.”

In April 2009 she participated in the dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony for the $49 million academic complex of the Welcome Center for Health Professions and Learning Resources, on the St. Philip’s College campus. Williams gave the “legacy speech” for the Vocational Nursing Program at the ceremony. Her biographical sketch is now part of the archives and special collections of the St. Philip’s College Learning Resource Center. 

Both Williams and her late husband Ernest “Bill” Williams were active community members, and because of her presence and dedication to her children’s schools, she is now a lifetime member of the Parent-Teacher Association for Gates Elementary School in San Antonio.

In 1964, Bishop Everett Jones of the Diocese of West Texas confirmed Williams in St. Philip’s Church. She joined the church and deeply involved herself in ministry, serving as the vice president of the Women of St. Philip’s; on the church’s Altar Guild, as well as the diocesan Altar Guild; on the church’s Vestry during the construction of the Davis/Waller Parish Hall; and as the first coordinator the pictorial directory. She served on the Ebony Fashion Fair committee, a fundraising effort of the church for many years.

Williams also served as an usher and greeter, a volunteer church office assistant, memorial outreach chair, and condolence chairperson. She was the co-editor of the St. Philip’s Journal Newsletter and is still the Memorial Fund record keeper, which she began in 1990. In 2015, Williams became a charter member of the Dr. Artemisia Bowden Diocese of West Texas chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians.

“I have enjoyed St. Philip’s Church and I try to stay as active as I can,” said Williams. “It’s a beautiful place and has been a solace to me in many ways.”

Now in her home that she bought with her husband in 1955 and in the care of Hospice, Williams continues to send birthday and anniversary greetings to church members, as well as sympathy cards to family members of St. Philip’s Church members. She also sends greeting cards when the feeling “strikes” her and for various special occasions in the lives of others. 

Upon hearing Bishop Reed’s request from this year’s Diocesan Council for the diocese to read the entire Bible in one year, Williams returned to a Bible day-by-day book given to her by her sister. “I’ve read it once, but I figured it was time now to refresh my mind,” she said. Her version provides a reading from the Old Testament and New Testament, a Psalm, and a Proverb for each of 365 days.

Williams’ favorite Proverb (3:6) states, “In everything you do, put God first, and He will direct you and crown your efforts with success.” 

Williams was proud to discuss her recognition as an honored woman from St. Philip’s, where her service alone distinguishes her as such. “I think of myself as a church mouse,” said Williams. “I seem to know every nook and cranny, every thing that goes on.”

“Mrs. Clara Etta Williams is an ardent server that will go out her way to help her fellow parishioners at St. Philip's Church,” said the Rev. Tony Regist, former rector of St. Philip’s, San Antonio.

Photo: Mrs. Clara Etta Williams at the Honored Women's Luncheon at Diocesan Council in February.