William Brian Williams, a newsman who spent 24 years of a 41-year-long journalism career at Newsday — including being part of a team that won a staff Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the 1996 TWA Flight 800 crash off the Long Island coast — died Dec. 1 after a 3-month-long illness, family members said. He was 82.
Williams died at the Altercare of Western Reserve Rehabilitation facility in Stow, Ohio, a day after being transferred from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio-based Western Reserve Hospital. He was being treated for a disorder of the esophagus, his wife, Terry Considine Williams, of Hudson, Ohio, said.
Williams, who lived in Garden City for 30 years, was born in 1934, in Grand Junction, Colorado. He attended Fort Collins High School north of Denver, graduating in 1952. He received a Bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1956 from the University of Colorado.
In 1958, he joined the Lake County News Herald in Willoughby, Ohio, as a wire editor, later covering the county courthouse.
He was known early in his career as Bill Williams, but his wife said that changed after he joined The Plain Dealer of Cleveland in 1960. She said a city editor fed up with the multitude of men named Bill in the newsroom asked the young reporter his middle name, then declared: “Well, now you’re ‘Brian Williams.’ If that complicates your personal life, I’m sorry, but it helps mine.”
He started at Newsday in 1974 as a copy editor. He became assistant Nassau County editor, and later an editor and writer for the Viewpoints section. He joined Newsday’s Queens edition when it launched in 1978. He retired in 1998.
“He was just a good solid, valuable neighbor and friend,” said Ann Silverberg, a Newsday assistant news editor who worked with Williams for 12 years on the night news desk.
Before Newsday, Williams worked at the San Diego Union from 1971 to 1974 as a copy editor, day city editor and news editor.
He spent 11 years at The Plain Dealer, Ohio’s largest morning daily. Williams was the paper’s first suburban politics writer, then as suburban editor he started a popular column called “Crabgrass,” known for his shrewd voice on community gripes.
“His writing was always so sharp and insightful,” said Nick Wingfield, Williams’ nephew and New York Times’ Seattle bureau chief, in a letter to Considine Williams.
In the late 1960s, Williams forged an unusual partnership between newspapers around the country to cover organized crime at a time when the U.S. Department of Justice had special La Cosa Nostra task forces in 21 cities.
Williams wrote to 27 papers in those cities, proposing loose information-sharing. The effort paid off: Thirteen papers, including The New York Times, the New York Daily News and the Chicago Daily News, participated. The result was important coverage of a nearly impenetrable subject, his wife said.
He enlisted in the Army Reserves in 1957. He served six months of active duty attending the Army Intelligence School at Fort Holabird, Maryland, and was honorably discharged in 1963.
In addition to his wife, Williams is survived by his daughter, Katy Williams, also of Hudson; and his sister, Mary Williams, of Napa Valley, California.