A community says goodbye to Fresno pioneer LaVera Williams

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The City of Fresno said goodbye to a pioneer on Wednesday.

LaVera Williams died from COVID-19 late last month at the age of 93. On Wednesday, dozens honored her in a home-going celebration in southwest Fresno.

It was a sad day as only family and close friends were able to say goodbye to the local trailblazer.

Fresno Unified Board Trustee and family spokesperson Keshia Thomas says the pain is intensified by the pandemic.

Thomas said, "It's a very hard day and what's even more so sad - it's a time of COVID, and we can't all hug each other and love each other and give each other the nurturing feeding that we need.

COVID restrictions also limited who was allowed to attend the home-going celebration at the Jesse E. Cooley Funeral Services. Wearing a mask was required upon entry, plus every other row was taped off.

With many pews empty, hearts were still full. Mourners shared their love and sorrow through flowers, prayers, scriptures, and kind words for the family.

Williams was born in Oklahoma, but moved to Fresno in 1945 where she married the love of her life and had three daughters. She attended Fresno Pacific, Fresno City College, and Fresno State.

She opened the first infant child care center in southwest Fresno - and became known as a strong businesswoman, and much more.

"For 74 years, she's been a community member, a community activist, a trainer, a mentor, a mother a sister, a wife here in Fresno," Thomas said. "She opened up a million dollar facility with being red-lined in Fresno, so she had to depend on her community members, her family members to help her open up this facility."

Williams' love for the community and many successes were recognized on the local and national level.

The accolades include being named Woman of the Year for the 16th Senate District of California by then-State Senator Jim Costa.

"It's bigger than just being a pillar, it's about being an African American Entrepreneur in Fresno who was successful beyond all means and just being a great individual who loves people," Thomas said. "We will miss that legacy, we will miss being able to just call her and ask questions. We will miss being able to call and get advice or just say hello. She will be deeply missed by her family and just the rest of us in the community."

The Fresno City Council is planning to make a special proclamation in Williams' honor on Thursday.

Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias sent a statement to Action News saying, "Mrs. LaVera Williams invested 75 years of her life in raising and mentoring thousands of southwest Fresno children. Her legacy of compassion, love and leadership has been passed on to many current leaders in our City and will outlive her life for generations to come."
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