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Juanita Williams, formerly of Roosevelt, dies at 78

When Juanita Williams' three children would come home after school to their Brooklyn residence, they often would be greeted by the sound of their mother singing as she painted.

An avid painter with a beautiful jazzy voice, said her daughter Crystal, Williams died on May 15 from complications of pneumonia at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre. The former Roosevelt resident was 78 years old.

Williams was born Cloreth Juanita Jones and raised in Portsmouth, Va. After graduating from Norcom High School, she received an art scholarship but wasn't able to come up with the resources to attend, so she moved to New York City to be with her two sisters.

She met her future husband, John C. Williams, while working at a lamp factory in the city, and they married in 1952. The couple lived in Red Hook, Brooklyn, until moving to Roosevelt in 1969 with their three children - Crystal and John Conrad Jr., both of Roosevelt, and Barry, who now lives in Milwaukee, Wis.

Juanita Williams' husband John died in 2004. Before her death, Juanita Williams had been living at the Nassau Extended Care facility in Hempstead.

Williams worked at Macy's, starting in the Brooklyn store, and later at various Long Island locations in Carle Place, Hempstead and Valley Stream, said Crystal.

But while her work was in retail, her heart was in the arts. Both Crystal and John Conrad Jr., a Newsday staff photographer, remember their mother teaching them how to draw and appreciate music.

"She handed those things down to us," John Conrad Jr. said. "We learned music, and how to draw and paint. The whole family was involved in the arts because of her . . . It's amazing how it affects you in your life."

Crystal described her mother as "a Picasso-type of painter." While living in Red Hook, Juanita Williams would take the backs off discarded furniture, sand down the thin wood and use them as her canvas, her daughter said.

"Mom would give the art to friends in the neighborhood, and if anyone said they wanted a painting, she would give it to them," said Crystal.

Along with her painting, Juanita Williams was a passionate jazz lover with a beautiful voice, said her children. "She loved opera, jazz and a little gospel. But she really loved jazz," Crystal said.

Her children say she was a woman filled with love and joy, with a fabulous laugh and always ready to greet her loved ones with a plate of food.

"She was a very patient and compassionate, loving type of person," Crystal said.

Besides her three children, Williams is survived by her sister, Joan Ward, of Springfield Gardens, Queens, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. She is predeceased by another sister, Eloise Simmond of Brooklyn.

A funeral service will be held 5-8 p.m. Tuesday at Hempstead Funeral Home, 89 Peninsula Blvd., in Hempstead.

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