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Jack Williams dies; environmentalist and Centre Island mayor was 88

Jack Williams, the co-founder of Friends of the

Jack Williams, the co-founder of Friends of the Bay and a mayor of Centre Island for 18 years, died on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. He was 88. Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo

Jack Williams, a former Centre Island mayor and leading environmentalist who helped prevent development along the coast of Oyster Bay, died Wednesday. He was 88.

He died of natural causes at a retirement home in Cockeysville, Maryland, said his wife of 61 years, Joan Williams.

Williams co-founded the environmental group Friends of the Bay in 1987 as part of a successful effort to block the construction of condominiums and a marina at the site of a former shipyard.

At first, it was just Jack and Joan Williams, group co-founder Ralph Naranjo and several others battling the developer and the Town of Oyster Bay, said Beth Dalton-Costello, a former president of Friends of the Bay who succeeded Williams as leader of the group several years ago.

"It really was a David-and-Goliath situation," she said.

Williams had a knack for organizing and the movement snowballed, leading to 1,000 people showing up at one public meeting to oppose the project, Dalton-Costello said.

"Without Jack it wouldn't have happened," she said.

Williams worried that coastal development would overload the sewer system, leading to more pollution in the bay, recalled Lawrence Schmidlapp, who was involved with Friends of the Bay early on and succeeded Williams as Centre Island mayor in 2009.

"He was always focused on the health of the water," Schmidlapp said.

Joan Williams said her husband's ability to work well with others was a key reason he was a popular mayor for 18 years.

"He was a very quiet, gentle man, and I think that's where his strength was," she said. "As mayor, he could get people together and solve problems that in many places or towns would turn into lawsuits, because he could talk to people and get people to talk to each other."

Roderick Williams, 57, of Pomfret, Vermont, said his father was a devoted family man who "spent many hours with me and my sister teaching us about the things he loved, including tennis and the outdoors, but also his values."

Jack Williams was born in New York City and worked in advertising and public relations, retiring in the 1980s as manager of corporate communications at Dun & Bradstreet, a business information firm, Joan Williams said. He graduated cum laude from Princeton University.

The couple had lived in Manhattan and in the early 1980s started renting a house in Centre Island as a summer home. Several years later, the couple bought the home.

Other survivors include a daughter, Maris Baker, 56, of Owings Mills, Maryland; and three grandchildren.

A celebration of his life will be held Sept. 27 at Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club in Oyster Bay. The family asks that donations in Williams' name be made to Friends of the Bay.

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