Former Gophers great, NFL lineman John Williams dies

  • Article by: HERÓN MÁRQUEZ ESTRADA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 9, 2012 - 1:21 PM

After a 12-year NFL career, he became a popular dentist and community leader in North Minneapolis. Williams was 64.

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Dr. John Williams,left, posed with business partner and former Gophers football teammate Ezell Jones in 2005. Williams died Sunday at age 64.

Photo: Tom Sweeney, Star Tribune

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John Williams, a former Gophers and NFL lineman who became a popular dentist and community leader in north Minneapolis after his football career, died Sunday while out for a walk, according to friends.

Williams, 66, played offensive tackle for the Gophers in the mid-1960s, winning All-Big Ten honors in 1967 and helping lead the Gophers to a share of the league title that year.

He was drafted in the first round and joined the Baltimore Colts in 1968, playing on two teams that went to the Super Bowl in three years, winning the 1971 championship game.

He then joined the Los Angeles Rams in 1972 and played for them for seven seasons, retiring in 1979 at the age of 32 after 12 NFL seasons.

Williams then returned to Minnesota, where he began his dental practice and became a respected civic leader.

"He was someone who seemingly everyone respected," Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said Sunday afternoon. "John was a crucially important member of many civic projects in north Minneapolis, including revitalizing West Broadway and involving youth."

Williams for years had his dentist's office on West Broadway, practicing in north Minneapolis for almost 25 years. Born in Jackson, Miss., he received his bachelor's in education from the University of Minnesota in 1969 and his DDS degree in 1978 from the University of Maryland.

Williams also was a private pilot and served on the Metropolitan Airports Commission, the governing board at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. He was appointed in 2002 by Gov. Jesse Ventura, and reappointed twice by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

"He was a vital member of our commission for more than a decade," said Jeff Hamiel, MAC's executive director. "He was always focused on fairness and asked questions about our diversity programs, whether we were including all members of our community, including people with disabilities or special needs."

Williams won the Minneapolis volunteer of the year award in 1992 and for almost two decades was active in leading a prison ministry team.

Other civic duties included serving as president of the West Broadway Business Association and as a past board member of the Minneapolis Urban League.

"He had a sense of obligation," said City Council Member Don Samuels. "He just wanted to serve the community and give back to the community that gave to him. His impact is going to be realized gradually as we miss him."

Sherman Patterson, a Williams protege, said his mentor was recovering from a kidney transplant about a month ago at the Mayo Clinic.

He said he saw Williams Saturday night and that he "looked good." Patterson said Sunday that Williams was on his morning walk and about six blocks from his north Minneapolis home when he died.

"John was an anchor on West Broadway and the North Side," said Patterson, an aide to Rybak. "John believed in making the community better. He stayed at home for the love of the North Side."

Funeral arrangements had not been announced Sunday.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara Butts-Williams, dean of the School of Education at Capella University in Minneapolis and a member of the newly formed Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which will be working closely with the Vikings on development of the team's new stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281

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