Stanley Thurlow WILLIAMS (02/28/1928 – 04/06/2016)
“Such a wonderful man. I feel blessed to have known him. Mr….”
– Rene’ Cebert
Stanley Thurlow Williams, a dancer and educator who inspired many Spokane youth to reach for their dreams, died in his home in Bradenton, Florida, April 6th. He was 88.
Mr. Williams, a leap year baby of 1928, was born in Hillyard to Mellie and Thurlow Williams. At the age of eight, Mr. Williams learned to tap dance and play various musical instruments, the piano being his instrument of choice and one he could play by ear throughout his lifetime. He continued his training in ballet and tap in Hollywood with various artists, such as Eugene Loring, and danced his way into many Hollywood films, “The Barkleys of Broadway,” “Take Me Out to The Ball Game” and “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby,” to name a few. Mr. Williams continued to perfect his own act in the vaudeville circuits of California and Oregon, and mastered various styles of Spanish dance, the latter under the tutelage of the famed cabaret artists of the 1930s, Paquita and Zarate. Eventually, Mr. Williams made his way to New York and danced in the Broadway musicals “Alive and Kicking” and “Great to Be Alive” and taught at the first Fred Astaire dance studio on Park Avenue at the invitation of Mr. Astaire.
Mr. Williams’ teaching and dancing career continued until he was called to serve in the U.S. Army, where he tapped for the troops for six months at various bases before continuing in basic training at Fort Ord. Eventually, Mr. Williams was trained as a physician’s assistant, a skill he called on from time-to-time throughout his life to care for ailing loved ones.
In the 1950s, Mr. Williams set sail for London to audition for Britain’s rising ballet company, The Sadler’s Wells. A fortuitous conversation with a fellow shipboard passenger who was a choreographer redirected Williams to Paris, where he was immediately employed as a lead dancer at the legendary variety and dancing cabaret, La Nouvelle Eve. Mr. Williams’ tap-dancing act eventually received top billing with the eye-catching headline, “Direct from America, Tall, Dark and Dancesome, Stan the Man!” His original show-stopping number featured Mr. Williams in a white suit, tapping across a glass stage, illuminated from underneath with colored lights that changed tones according to the tapped rhythms. Mr. Williams’ wife, ballet dancer turned Paris nightclub dancer, Tessa Sollom Williams, once recalled, “I would always rush to see his entrance at the end of my performance. He would always stop by for a coffee at the apartment I shared with my great friend and fellow dancer, Sheila Clatworthy, and then we three would tour something in Paris before we went to the theatre for our evening performances. When I first met Stan, I told Sheila I would marry him one day and I did!” Mr. Williams’ married Tessa Sollom in 1962 at the Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral in Spokane.
In the mid 1950s, after an extended tour performing in Naples, Rome and Sicily, Mr. Williams returned to Spokane to continue his education and embark on a successful 40-year teaching career. Upon completing a B.A. at Eastern Washington University and M.A. at Gonzaga University in education, Mr. Williams taught at Shadle Park High School and Eastern Washington University and began directing plays. From 1964 to 1995, Mr. Williams taught speech and drama at Spokane Falls Community College and was Chairman of the SFCC Creative Arts Program. In 1962, he directed the first musical to be presented at Spokane Civic Theatre, “The Boyfriend,” one of many collaborations he would pursue with the Spokane Civic and Spokane Children’s Theatres. In 1976, Mr. Williams directed and choreographed a Washington State revue for the nation’s bicentennial. The project, featuring student performers from Washington’s community colleges, opened at the Spokane Opera House and toured 39 counties in the state with a finale presented in the state’s capital, Olympia. Mr. Williams designed the musical revue to promote diversity. In his career, Mr. Williams’ directed over 77 plays in the Spokane region.
In the 1980s, Mr. Williams completed his doctorate in education at the University of the Pacific. In retirement, he performed as the Pacific Northwest’s Ronald McDonald, touring the company’s franchises as well as children’s hospitals and conducting various symphony orchestras as the iconic clown. He also trained in analyzing handwriting, becoming a master graphoanalyst and lecturer. This passion, along with his knowledge of Alaskan history, sent him on over fifty cruises around the world as a shipboard lecturer with Tessa.
Mr. Williams is survived by his beloved wife, Tessa Sollom Williams of Bradenton, Florida and Spokane, Washington; son, Scott Charles Williams and daughter-in-law, Candace; daughter, Tanya Dawn and son-in-law, John Wetenhall; two grandchildren, Jasmine and Jaden Williams; two sisters, Doris Coble and Eileen Broomell; and many much-loved nieces, nephews, cousins, extended family, students and friends. A celebration of life will be held in Sarasota, Florida, June 18th and at the Spokane Civic Theatre, July 16th. In lieu of flowers, the family is establishing a “Stanley T. Williams Go for Your Dreams” fund in the Spokane area and a fund at an animal shelter in memory of his love for animals and his beloved dog, Sutter, who preceded him in death. Please contact the family for details.
Published in Spokesman-Review on Apr. 24, 2016
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