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Obituary Archive

John K. Williams Jr.  May 12, 1945 - Nov. 25, 2015


It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of John K Williams Jr., after a lifetime of service to Adaptive Aquatics and the disabled community.


John was born May 12, 1945, a third generation San Diegan. At birth his brain was deprived of oxygen, leaving his intelligence intact but interfering with his nervous system so that he had diminished control of his muscles. His condition, cerebral palsy, was a challenge all his life, limiting his mobility and speech. However, John never allowed his challenges to define him. He believed that his purpose in life was to be a role model for others. His motto was “be happy, if I can be, so can you”. In his 20’s he was proprietor of a book store. He also learned to swim in a time when no one thought this was possible for a person with Cerebral Palsy.


“At first, I was afraid of water,” Williams said. “I would not go into water more than two or three feet deep so I could get around on my hands and and knees, as I was afraid of falling. I soon found that even if I did fall, the water would help pick me up and I could stand by myself. The water was a stabilizing force that made it easy for me to keep my balance and move around the pool – I could walk! I could dance! I could stand on one foot – It was like flying! My movements in the water were much smoother than on land, so they were easier and less frustrating and the more I did the more I wanted to do. I began to get a sense of accomplishment. Then I learned about the benefits of physical fitness. As I walked more in the water, I could go farther and farther, and as I did more, my heart rate went down. I got a greater range of motion, more flexibility, and could sleep better.”


John wanted to share his experience. In 1978, Louise Priest, who was the Director of Adapted Aquatics for the American Red Cross, invited him to attend a meeting of the Council for National Cooperation in Aquatics, which was being held in San Diego, and John became active in the adaptive aquatics movement. In his 50’s John graduated from college, a lifetime goal of his, first from San Diego Mesa College and then from San Diego State College with a BA in recreational management. In 1993, the International Swimming Hall of Fame created an award to honor the person who made the greatest contribution to adaptive aquatics each year. John was the first recipient and thereafter the award was named the “John K. Williams, Jr. International Adapted Aquatics Award.” He was an active member of ISHOF’s Advisory Board until recently and since 2013, the award has been sponsored by S. R. Smith.

“S.R. Smith has been honored to present this award on behalf of John and his life’s work of sharing his love of swimming,” says Dan Jorgensen, VP of S.R. Smith. “He was an instrumental leader promoting the benefits of water therapy and creating pool access for all individuals.”

John was the author and the subject of many articles in the field of adaptive aquatics and a long time volunteer at Camp Able in Coronado. He was a role model, mentor and friend to all who knew him. John is survived by his brother Grant Williams and Grants wife Barbara; nephews Mike and Brinton Williams and Brinton’s wife Eva, and Cousins Keith and Marylyn Robinson and their extended family.


A celebration of John’s life will be held December 14 at 6PM in party room 1 of the Promenade at Rio Vista apartments, 2185 Station Village Way, San Diego. Contributions to the San Diego Chapter of United Cerebral Palsy Society are requested in lieu of flowers.

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