Williams grew up in the edge of the Homocitto National Forest, a little east of Natchez, Mississippi. "We had no telephone, no television--only a radio. So I did what most young people in a rural setting without 'wheels' did. When not doing chores, I read a lot of books (mystery novels her favorite), played my piano or flute to fill my time," she said.
Mississippi Public Schools had "a great music program for free," so she took piano lessons from age 6 through high school, took flute lessons for participation in the band and was part of the school chorus, which gave her some vocal training.
She has used those talents and that training for years, having led the Tanner Williams United Methodist Church choir for 32 years, playing the piano in the absence of the regular pianist, and sharing organ-playing duties with another musician. Williams even used her knowledge and skill to help raise funds for a new organ at the church. "I put together 'keys' to give to anyone who donated $100 toward the purchase of the organ," she said. The instrument was in place within a year.
Williams attended the University of Southern Mississippi, graduating with a major in biology. When her husband was stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, she completed a year's internship at Hotel Dieu Hospital there, and passed a national exam to become a Registered Medical Technologist.
In Mobile, she used her education and training to become supervisor of the Hematology Department in the lab at the old Providence Hospital, then left hospital practice to set up a lab for Dr. W.T. Wright and worked for him for eight years.
When her children, Sherry and Russell, were small, "I turned to a profession that would let me be home with them," Williams said. She attended the University of South Alabama on two separate occasions. The first time, she earned a Master's Degree to become certified as a science teacher. The second time, she acquired 48 hours above the Master's level to earn her EDS Certification. She taught science the next 25 years at Baker High School, retiring around 2004.
In her retirement, she now teaches two Physiology and Anatomy classes at Faulkner State Community College. "I like people and I like to teach science," she said of her current profession.
The part-time job allows her to do some of the things full-time work didn't. "I quilt, do calligraphy (a skill she taught herself and once taught middle-schoolers in an enrichment class) and I have started making jewelry and wind chimes," Williams said.
About the quilting, Williams explained that her family has an annual reunion and she makes a quilt to be given away in a raffle at the event. "My grandfather Ashley had two wives and 14 children. The quilt lists EVERYBODY with birth and death dates. Those listed include (her grandfather), his two wives, all the children, including ancestors all the way back to the 1600s. It is a joy to make and a joy to see it go to kin," she said.
Williams has a number of hobbies now, several of which visitors to Tanner Williams May Day and Centennial Celebration of the old Tanner Williams School will see on May 2. She does machine embroidery and makes Christmas ornaments with the current year on them. She makes jewelry--necklaces with matching earrings, and charm bracelets. And she creates unique wind chimes using beads, marbles, coiled wire and "found" objects.
All these will be for sale in her booth at May Day. In addition, she'll have framed commemorative photos of the 100th anniversary of Tanner Williams School.
The Renaissance Man has nothing on Shirley Williams: She is smart, educated, a teacher, an artist, a musician--and something Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci could never be--a mother.