Joanne Williams, age 72, died on Aug. 17 in Gunnison, the town she loved so much, after a year-long struggle with cancer. Joanne dealt with the cancer and its impact on her body like every other aspect of her life — with strength, humility, deep curiosity and a continued zest for life right up to the end. Joanne’s friends and family know her as a woman of mischievous wit and deep intellect whose real compassion and strong connections to people, animals and birds enriched the lives and days of everyone in her orbit.
Joanne Marie York was born June 5, 1947 to Leo and Sarah York at the Naval Station hospital in Pensacola, Fla. She attended Florida State University for two years, completed coursework at the University of Arkansas, and graduated from Western State College (WSC) in 1971. Summers she worked at a resort in Tomahawk, Wisc., cleaning cabins, tending bar, cleaning fish, waiting tables and learning how to water ski. She loved flying home over the beautiful small lakes and hardwoods of northern Wisconsin in the “puddle jumper” freight plane to Chicago.
She and David R. Williams met in a science class at WSC and were married in 1972. After graduation from WSC, they worked for competing Gunnison newspapers, and eventually were hired to manage the Gunnison County Globe, she as editor and he as advertising manager. They were divorced in 1974, and when the Globe was sold with the Gunnison News-Champion to form the Gunnison Country Times in 1975, she stayed on as a reporter, and eventually was promoted to editor. Community journalism was her first love, and from the time she crafted two-page “neighborhood” newspapers when she was 10 years old, she dreamed of being a newspaper reporter. She loved being that in Gunnison.
In 1979 she resigned from her post at the Times to join the Gunnison County Planning Department and became its director in 1982. It was a job she held until her retirement in March 2013. She felt immensely privileged to serve in this position, because of the people with whom she worked in the county government as well as the community, the intellectual challenge of the work, and the beautiful community she served and loved so much. Her contributions to Gunnison County over those years are too numerous to list, but the Land Use Resolution she collaboratively developed with stakeholders across the county in 2001 was her most impactful contribution. The Land Use Resolution continues today to protect the beauty of the landscape and rural character of Gunnison County while balancing the social and economic needs of its residents and visitors.
Joanne was very close to her parents and cherished her relationship with them immensely. She picked up a love for photography from her father, which in addition to being one of her main hobbies, also served her well as a reporter and as the county planner. Her other passions included reading, studying birds, culture and land preservation, travel, genealogy and contributing to the advancement, health and welfare of people in the United States and worldwide through developmental microloans and charitable giving.
In 1983 she became foster mom to 15-year-old Paul Williams, a relationship that started off strong and deepened over the years. Paul will never know for sure why Joanne decided to take him in, but he is forever grateful for love, care and attention she gave him as a teen, setting him on course for a successful life and endlessly enriching his life as a mother figure and dear friend for him and grandmother to his children.
Over her lifetime she enjoyed participating in various organizations, directing and producing plays and doing other work on the board for the Webster Players community theater; and as a member of the Friends of the Library, AAUW, school accountability and strategic planning committees; and as a board member of Partners; the Gunnison Public Library; Western State College Alumni Association; Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy; and Habitat for Humanity; Colorado Press Association, the American Planning Association, Colorado Genealogical Society.
She is survived by her son, Paul, his wife Tammy and his son and daughter Ryan and Megan; her daughter-by-choice, Tiffany Williams, her aunt Barbara, several cousins, and the dear friends who were also her family.
A memorial service will be held on Sunday, Aug. 25 at 2 p.m. at in the multipurpose facility at the county rodeo grounds.
In lieu of flowers or for persons caring to honor her life, Joanne requested contributions be made to the Gunnison Ann Zugelder Library Building Fund, the Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy, the Gunnison Valley Animal Welfare League or the Western State Foundation.