To someone meeting and getting to know Doreen Williams, the only thing more striking than her energy is her versatility. As a young college graduate, Williams survived a horrific car crash, along with a blood virus that nearly took her life. She married and raised five children, teaching for 30 years in classrooms ranging from advanced preschool to middle school language arts and social studies. Now in her “retirement,” she establishes budgets and crafts legislation as a county commissioner in Rockdale County, Georgia.
A New Chance at Life
After graduating from Brigham Young University in 1973, Williams moved home to California. But her life was interrupted by a car crash that left her with two broken arms and a ruptured spleen. Her recovery required a blood transfusion, which caused a liver disorder eventually diagnosed as Hepatitis C.
“It was gruesome, but when I came out on the other end I was one of the fortunate ones at that time who got rid of the virus,” Williams said. “I felt that I was given a chance at a new life, and I wanted to do all I could to take advantage of it.”
Educator and Educated
“All I could” turned out to be a great deal. She married and began raising her five children while substitute teaching and co-founding a preschool for high-achieving young children. When the Williams family moved from California to Pensacola, Florida, Doreen taught in a gifted resource pull-out program for elementary school students. Later she taught in a similar program when the family moved to Georgia. In addition she taught middle school: intervention classes, language arts, and social studies. Her favorite subject was seventh and eighth grade social studies. In Georgia Williams taught for 17 years.
In 2004, when her youngest son was a senior in high school, Williams earned a master’s degree from Walden University in using technology in the classroom. Along with her master’s work, Williams simultaneously earned a National Board Professional Certification.
“I loved the intellectual challenge so much when I completed those [programs that] I decided to apply for a doctoral program at Georgia Southern University,” Williams said. “It was during this program that my interest in politics surfaced, especially because of the reforms occurring in education.”
Educator to Politician
Those education reforms motivated Williams to become politically active. She joined the Rockdale County Democratic Party, serving as the treasurer for six years before becoming its chair. In May 2012 Williams completed her doctoral degree in curriculum studies and decided to run for the Georgia State Legislature.
“I was still teaching, but it was clear that the state legislature was making decisions for education with little input from educators,” Williams said. “I felt I could make a difference in crafting legislation that would affect teachers and students.”
Williams decided to retire from teaching in 2012 to put her full efforts into running for office. “The politics involving education began to affect what happened in my classroom, and that frustrated me,” Williams said.
Daily Williams has used the skills she learned as a teacher to promote and serve in her political career. “I found that running for this position incorporated all the skills I had learned as a teacher: strategic planning, communicating, educating on the issues, and developing relationships,” Williams said. “I’m not sure I chose politics as much as politics chose me.”
In her first election, in a field of five candidates, Williams advanced to the final round but lost by 17 votes. In 2014 an opportunity became available to challenge the Republican incumbent on the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners. Williams crafted a strategic campaign plan. She began by analyzing her strengths and weaknesses, comparing them to those of her opponent.
Williams calculated the number of phone calls she needed to make and to whom, how many doors she needed to knock, how much money she needed to raise, how many letters she needed to send out, and how many votes she needed to win. “The biggest challenges were getting enough volunteers to help meet the goals I had set,” Williams said about her campaign. This time she won, with 54 percent of the votes.
“Life-long learning is truly a passion of mine,” Williams said. “The whole idea that knowledge is power is true. Whether the power is simply to make better personal decisions or to make needed governmental changes.”
BYU has impacted Williams’ life. She participated in a special program that helped her overcome fears of new and difficult tasks. “One of the lessons I learned was that overcoming fear of new and hard tasks propels one to grow and develop in a variety of ways,” Williams said. “It allowed me to be more comfortable taking calculated risks, stepping into unknown territory, and sticking with it even when it because difficult. Running for public office was a direct result of that lesson I learned at BYU.”