Thousands of travelers on Greyhound left the driving to David Williams for more than 40 years, and children of all ages ached with laughter watching “Pinkie” clown around in the Twin Cities with the Shrine Circus.
Along his block in southeast Minneapolis, Williams’ neighbors marveled whenever he fired up the Bobcat and plowed snow season after season from the alley and residents’ driveways, paying it forward even after his 90th birthday.
Williams, who grew up in St. Paul and lived his entire adult life in that modest home on 26th Avenue SE., died Oct. 1 after suffering from kidney failure and multiple myeloma. He was 92.
Whether driving, clowning or plowing, Darcie Gergen said, her father “was a free spirit and did things his way. My gosh, some of the things he did.”
Such as one winter when he caught wind that someone was stealing gasoline from vehicles in a parking lot near his home.
Williams took his Bobcat — the same one that caused the path behind his home to be immortalized as “Pinkie’s Alley” — and “dumped a load of snow on [the thieves’] car,” Gergen said. “They couldn’t get away.”
Or on the occasion when he was inspired to make a detour from his assigned route for Greyhound, his employer from 1943 until his retirement in 1986.
The Williams kids know well the story of a family friend who had just returned from serving in the Vietnam War, a time when service members who were coming home faced public scorn for their role in an unpopular war.
“This kid rode the bus my dad drove from Minneapolis to Bemidji to his hometown of Backus,” son Davey Williams said.
The returning warrior’s family lived about a mile off the highway, prompting bus driver Williams to inform the rest of the passengers that he was bringing the soldier to his front door.
“He turned onto the dirt road and also announced that this soldier was a hero and deserved our respect for his service to our country,” Williams’ son said. “He pulled the bus into the soldier’s driveway, shook his hand and walked him to his parents’ door step while the passengers on the bus clapped and cheered.”
In a practice from a bygone and more trustful era, families often sent their little ones on the Greyhound to see Grandma and Grandpa.
“Dad watched over them and got them doughnuts,” easing the youngsters’ anxiety about being so far from home, his daughter said.
Williams’ alter ego was “Pinkie” the clown, who was part of Shrine Circus performances in the Twin Cities. One of his props was a dune buggy, which came in handy for one of Pinkie’s more remarkable stunts, Gergen said.
Williams and two of his buddies put on their clown get-ups, squeezed into the dune buggy and sneaked into the motorcade for the Minnesota Twins’ parades in Minneapolis and St. Paul after the team won the 1987 World Series.
Gergen said they didn’t get caught because the driver, one of Williams’ sons, “looked like Jeff Reardon, and they were asking for autographs.”
Along with his daughter and sons David and Dennis, Williams is survived by longtime companion Mary Lou; sister Marion, and brother Roger. Services were held Monday.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482