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William Jefferson

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William Jefferson Obituary
William (Bill) Douglas Jefferson

Bill Jefferson's May 17, 1968 letter in Time Magazine began "I must object to the trend in American society to view all social phenomena through black and white glasses. The attempt to find a racial explanation for every social crisis often blinds us to realistic solutions." He praised the "unsurpassed accomplishments" of the civil rights movement, but observed that the Constitution, a document written for all citizens, "imparts responsibilities as well as rights." William Douglas Jefferson, retired Air Force Major, embraced the responsibility of citizenship until his death Wednesday at the age of 81.

He was born January 30, 1932 in Chicago. His mother, the former Johnnie Mae Williamson, left Palestine, Texas in the 1920s. His father and namesake was from Itta Bena, Mississippi. When their small grocery store failed during the Great Depression, the family moved to Milwaukee. Bill's father took a grueling job at Coke Industries until he died at 48. Bill was just 16. Soon afterwards, Bill met a beautiful young woman named Joyce Virginia Olivier.

At six-foot- four and well over 200 pounds, Bill played football for the University of Wisconsin. A year later, as the Korean War raged in 1951, Bill enlisted in the Air Force. He arrived at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio on December 22. Unaccustomed to the segregated transportation and hotels in the south, he settled into a disciplined military life. There, arbitrary classifications were banished; merit prevailed.

He wrote Joyce frequently as his assignments took him to Colorado, New Mexico, England, Japan, and Nebraska. By July 1954, he had become a Staff Sergeant. He flew home during a 30-day leave, and married Joyce on August 14.

Their first child, Roxanne, was born at Omaha's Offutt AFB in 1955; Darrell was born at Westover AFB in Chicopee, Massachusetts in 1957; Lamont at March AFB in Riverside, California in 1959; Celeste in 1961 and Wallace in 1963 at Fort Lewis Army Hospital in Tacoma, Washington; and Leah was born in 1964 at Andersen AFB in Guam.

These were the days of Brown v. Board of Education, of the civil rights movement and race riots, of the death of Martin Luther King, and the birth of the Voting Rights Act. During all of this turmoil, Bill focused on his responsibilities as an officer, a husband, and a father. Regretting his early departure from the University of Wisconsin, Bill was determined to graduate from college. He received his Bachelor's Degree in 1962 from the University of Puget Sound and his Masters in Political Science from St. Mary's University in 1970.

He retired from the Air Force following 21 years of honorable service. Afterwards, he volunteered with the Salvation Army for decades, served on the Board of St. Peter's St. Joseph's Children's Home, and taught political science as an adjunct professor at St. Philip's College and San Antonio College. He was a Certified Life Underwriter and Chartered Financial Planner. He was an amateur genealogist, discovering in the late 1980's that he was the descendant of a Waco slave, Shedrick Willis, whose owner was a state court judge. Bill marveled in the irony that his son, Wallace B. Jefferson, is now Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas.

Along with his family and country, Bill devoted his life to his Faith. He was a Eucharistic Minister for more than 40 years in the Catholic Church at Lackland Air Force Base. That service is attended primarily by young men and women who have enlisted to defend their country, as Bill did. Bill estimated that he had seen more than 400,000 Air Force graduates who attended Lackland's Sunday Mass.

Bill's heart was broken when the family lost their beloved Celeste in 2010. He is now reunited with her in the Lord's Kingdom. He is survived by his other children, by his loving wife Joyce, by his sister Ollie Price, and by many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The family will receive friends from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m., Monday, July 1, 2013 at Porter Loring Mortuary North.

11:30 A.M.

(Please check Porter Loring Web site www.porterloring.com or call Porter Loring North at 210-495-8221
For confirmation of location for Funeral Mass)


Interment with U.S. Air Force Military Honors will follow in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, you may wish to make a memorial contribution to the Salvation Army.

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Published in Express-News on June 29, 2013
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