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Williams, Jody

Jody Williams

American political activist Jody William (born 1950) received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. She and the organization she helped found in 1992, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), were recognized for their efforts to eradicate antipersonnel landmines. Her hard work was further rewarded when over 100 countries signed a groundbreaking treaty to ban landmines in December of 1997.

Early Influence and Education

Williams was born on October 9, 1950, in Brattleboro, Vermont. She was the second of five children of a county judge and a mother who oversaw public housing projects. The physical and mental troubles of her older brother taught Williams the lessons of empathy and looking out for the less fortunate at an early age. As she told David Usborne of London's Independent Sunday, "I have a deaf schizophrenic brother that people were mean to when I was young. I couldn't understand why people would be mean to him because he was deaf. That translated into wanting to stop bullies being mean to . . . people, just because they are weak."

Williams graduated from the University of Vermont in 1972, but she had no idea what career path she wanted to pursue. "I didn't have a clue about what I was going to do," the Christian Science Monitor quoted Williams. "I didn't even come to graduation because I didn't know what I was graduating from or to." Her lack of direction persisted even as she earned a master's degree in teaching Spanish and English as a second language from Brattleboro's School for International Training in 1976 and another in international relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in 1984. She wandered from teaching jobs in Mexico, the United Kingdom, and Washington D.C. to working as a temporary secretary (also in Washington D.C.). Nothing really piqued her interest until she was given a leaflet about El Salvador at a subway stop. That leaflet led her to a meeting in a church basement, which in turn sparked a fascination for the political activism that would become Williams' life work.

Passionate Determination

Finally captured by a driving passion, Williams began organizing on the side while she was still teaching. In 1984, she went into the activism business full–time by signing on as co–coordinator of the Nicaragua–Honduras Education Project. After two years in that position, she became deputy director of Medical Aid for El Salvador, where she organized such humanitarian relief projects as a network of U.S. hospitals that provided free care to children wounded in the war in El Salvador. By 1991, however, Williams was ready to channel her energy into new areas, and an interesting opportunity presented itself.

In November of 1991, Williams was approached by representatives of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation and Medico International (a German humanitarian organization) who wanted her to coordinate an international campaign against antipersonnel landmines. At the time, there were estimated to be over 100 million such weapons scattered across 80 countries. They were killing or wounding approximately 70 people (mainly civilians, many children) per day, or 26,000 a year. Years after the conflicts that used them were over, the devices remained active. As American Senator Patrick J. Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, told Peter Vilbig and Herbert Buchsbaum of Scholastic Update, "The problem with land mines is that wars end, peace treaties are signed, armies march away, the guns grow silent—but the land mines stay."

Despite the Herculean nature of the task before her, Williams took the job. As she later said in a speech, quoted by Angela Turner of the Albuquerque Journal, "I didn't decide to tackle land mines. Land mines invited me to take them on." She became the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which was formally launched in October of 1992. A primary goal of the organization was to get an international treaty signed that would stop the production, sale, and stockpiling of the weapons, along with getting rid of the existing ones. Williams' colleagues predicted that it would take at least 30 years to accomplish that aim, but Williams was still willing to try.

Based out of her homes in Putney, Vermont and Washington, D.C., with no staff, Williams fell to work with a fierce determination. Rising before dawn each day, she first relied primarily on facsimile machines, and later e–mail, to get the word out. Contacting non–governmental organizations (NGOs) concerned with human rights, disarmament, and Third World development, she sought their unified support on the land mine issue. Further, she met with government and NGO leaders around the world, and spoke about the problem at such venues as the European Parliament and the Organization for African Unity. Her efforts began to snowball as converted NGOs began to convince their governments to take action and the numbers of the convinced continued to grow. Indeed, under Williams' watch, the ICBL grew to include more than 1,300 NGOs in 85 countries. Susannah Sirkin, deputy director of the Physicians for Human Rights, described the activist's tenacity to Michael Richman of Investor's Business Daily. "Williams is an extraordinarily determined individual. She is fearless. She has never been reluctant to stand in front of a general or world leader, with a conviction that she was right on this issue, and tell them what needs to be done." And Williams' efforts paid off in record time.

Nobel and Treaty Attained

As Williams' dream of an international treaty came closer to fruition, she received an unexpected boost in 1996 from the active support of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. Acknowledging the contributions of the princess, Williams told Usborne, "She clearly was a celebrity and she had the attention and captured the imagination of Joe in the street. Her visit to Angola clearly heightened awareness of the tragedy of landmines. She gave a face to the victims." On the other hand, Williams was continually frustrated by the lack of her own country's backing. United States President Bill Clinton was staunchly opposed to the treaty, as it would have banned U.S. landmines planted on the border between North and South Korea. Vilbig and Buchsbaum quoted Clinton's view: "There is a line that I simply cannot cross, and that line is the safety and security of our men and women in uniform." An unimpressed Williams snapped, "I think it's tragic that President Clinton doesn't want to be on the side of humanity."

Even without the support of the United States, Williams' dogged persistence was rewarded twice over in 1997. First, she and the ICBL were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October. Receiving the news on the day after her birthday, Williams jubilantly greeted the press outside her Vermont house clad in jeans and bare feet. "Not a bad birthday present!," the Economist quoted her saying. Clinton, however, was not among the many who called to congratulate her, a fact that Williams did not let go lightly. Ginia Ballafante of Time quoted the new Nobel Laureate as saying, "I think if the President can call the winner of the Super Bowl, he should call the Nobel Peace Prize winner." She went on to add that, should he call, she would say, "What's your problem?"

The second way in which 1997 was a banner year for Williams was with the actual signing of a treaty to ban landmines. In negotiations and signings in Oslo and Ottawa, over 100 countries agreed to the treaty. Coming in far short of the original 30–year projection for getting the job done, the agreement became binding international law faster than any comparable treaty before it. The signers included countries with the most significant landmine problems, along with such NATO allies as Britain, France, Germany, and Canada. While the United States' signature remained conspicuously absent, the treaty was still a remarkable achievement attained in unprecedented short order.

Although naturally delighted with both her accomplishment and the prestigious award it garnered, Williams attributed much of her success to cooperation and hard work. She told D'Arcy Jenish of Maclean's, "The support for a ban didn't come out of nowhere. Hundreds of organizations were involved in the issue in the field. There was a natural constituency to pull together." To Richman, Williams explained the kind of Yankee sensibility that saw her through. "I'm an ordinary person who's achieved extraordinary things by working with ordinary people in the world. I want people I'm speaking to to understand that if I did it, they can do it. All you've got to do is get up at 3:30 in the morning and work."

Other Pursuits

In February of 1998, Williams stepped down from her role as coordinator of the ICBL and became a campaign ambassador for the organization, speaking on its behalf all over the globe. She also joined the ICBL's coordination committee and began a post as senior editor of the group's Landmine Monitor Report, which watches over the implementation and compliance of the Mine Ban Treaty that she spearheaded. Outside of the ICBL, Williams went on to pursue such other interests as working with nine other Nobel Laureates on Peacejam, an educational project designed to inspire a new generation of peace activists. In 2003, she also began a four–year stint as the distinguished visiting professor of social work and global justice at the University of Houston's Graduate School of Social Work.

In her minimal spare time, Williams was an outspoken opponent of the United States' 2003 invasion of Iraq as well. She incorporated her views into her lectures, and demonstrated her commitment to them by such acts as participating in a protest at the White House that resulted in her arrest in March of 2003. She sometimes wearied of her responsibilities as a Nobel Laureate, but showed no signs of slowing down or compromising her beliefs. As Turner quoted her, "I refuse to stop thinking, I'm sorry."

Perhaps part of what supplied Williams' relentless energy was the attitude reflected in her 1998 speech quoted by the Christian Science Monitor. She said, "The only thing I do know is that I still, every single day of my life, get up with joy and excitement and wonder about what am I going to do today that's going to make a difference." Even more simply put were the inspirational words quoted by Turner. Williams said, "Anyone can do what I do. There's nothing magical about it. Just care."


Albuquerque Journal, April 6, 2003.

Christian Science Monitor, June 12, 1998.

Daily Telegraph (London, England), March 27, 2003.

Economist, October 18, 1997.

Independent (London, England), February 24, 1998.

Independent Sunday (London, England), October 12, 1997.

Investor's Business Daily, July 5, 2001.

Maclean's, October 20, 1997.

People Weekly, October 27, 1997.

San Francisco Chronicle, February 13, 1998.

Scholastic Update, December 8, 1997.

Time, October 20, 1997.


"Jody Williams," infoplease, (December 31, 2004).

"Jody Williams—Curriculum Vitae," Nobel Prize Website, (December 31, 2004).

"Jody Williams—Long Biography," ICBL,–williams/bio (December 31, 2004).

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Williams, Jody

Jody Williams

Blues guitarist

Blues master and former Bo Diddley collaborator Jody Williams returned to the stage in 2000 after a 30-year absence, dazzling audiences once again with the deft guitar work that earned him renown in the 1950s and 1960s. Williams first made a name for himself as a session guitarist for such blues luminaries as Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Rogers, and many others. The guitarist's signature riffs set apart such songs as Diddley's "Who Do You Love," Otis Spann's "Five Spot," and Billy Boy Arnold's "I Was Fooled."

Though highly influential in the 1950s and 1960s blues scene, Williams was often relegated to the status of a sideman. In the late 1960s he quit the music business in frustration when other musicians appropriated his work. Williams was in his 60s when he made his spectacular re-emergence, winning the W.C. Handy Blues Award for Comeback Album of the Year for his 2002 album, Return of a Legend.

Joseph Leon Williams was born on February 3, 1935, in Mobile, Alabama and moved to Chicago at the age of six. As a teenager he met Bo Diddley playing acoustic guitar on the streets of the city that made blues famous. Williams then played the harmonica, but he switched instruments when his mother purchased a $32.50 Silverstone guitar for her son at a pawn shop. "It had one electric pickup on it," Williams told Dave Hoekstra of the Chicago Sun-Times. "Bo Diddley didn't have an electric guitar, but I did.".

Soon Williams was performing with Diddley and other up-and-coming bluesmen. By the time he turned 20, Williams had become one of the blues world's most sought-after session guitarists, known for his nimble fingers and evocative, Latin-inflected rhythms.

In 1955 Williams made his recording debut as a guitarist and vocalist under the nickname "Little Papa Joe." His single "Looking for My Baby" appeared on Al Benson's Blue Lake imprint. Two years later, under the new stage name "Little Joe Lee," Williams received writing credits for the Argo imprint releases "Lucky Lou" and "You May." Under yet another alias, "Sugar Boy Williams," the guitarist released "Little Girl" for Herald Records in 1960. Over the next few years Williams penned tunes for such labels as Nike, Jive, Smash, and Yulando.

Williams had begun to grow wary of the music business when other artists pilfered his guitar work without crediting him. Originally created for blues artist Billy Stewart, a lead guitar riff by Williams appeared in the 1957 hit song "Love Is Strange," by Mickey Baker of the one-hit-wonder group Mickey & Sylvia. It appeared that Baker had picked up the riff when he heard Williams play at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. Williams took legal action but was unable to obtain credit or monetary compensation for his contribution to the song.

To make matters more complicated, the writing credit for "Love Is Strange" was given to Bo Diddley's wife Together with Williams, Diddley had a hand in creating the song, but he had switched the credit to protect his royalties. So it was Diddley, and not Williams, who ultimately profited from Mickey & Sylvia's hit, which climbed to number 11 on the charts in 1957. "I was ripped off," Williams later told John Sinkevics in the Grand Rapids Press.

Fed up with the music business, the guitarist ultimately turned his back on it. In an abrupt change of course, Williams stashed his cherished "Red Lightnin'" Gibson guitar under his bed and enrolled in school to study electronics in the late 1960s. Joining the workforce, he became an appliance repair technician specializing in radios and televisions. Continuing his education in computer science, Williams built on his skills as an electronics whiz; he later found work as a technical engineer for copy machine giant Xerox. This job was to be his livelihood for more than 25 years.

Williams's departure from music was complete; he not only refused to play in public, he refused to play at all, even staying away from the nightclubs where he used to watch his friends and colleagues play. He was afraid, he later acknowledged, that some of those friends would prevail on him to pick up his guitar one last time.

It wasn't until Williams retired in 1994 that he considered reviving his music career. "One day my wife [Delores Williams] said if I started playing again I might feel better about life in general," he told Hoekstra of the Chicago Sun-Times. Yet it was not until 1999, at the encouragement of producer Dick Shurman, that he stepped into a blues club for the first time in decades. That evening he went to hear his old friend Robert Lockwood Jr. play, and the experience left Williams nostalgic for his music days. It wasn't long before he dusted off an old tape of himself playing in 1964. The recording moved Williams to tears and inspired him to pick up his guitar once more.

For the Record …

Born Joseph Leon Williams on February 3, 1935, in Mobile, AL.

Met Bo Diddley, started playing guitar, early 1950s; made recording debut as guitarist and vocalist on "Looking for My Baby," 1955; wrote, played guitar, and sang on various blues singles, 1950s and 1960s; abandoned music career, studied electronics and engineering, late 1960s; worked as electronics engineer for Xerox, 1970s through early 1990s; retired 1994; reemerged on music scene, June 2000; released first solo album, Return of a Legend, 2002; released You Left Me in the Dark, 2004.

Awards: W.C. Handy Award, Comeback Album of the Year for Return of a Legend, 2003.

Addresses: Record company—Evidence Music, Inc., 1100 E. Hector St., Ste. 392, Conshohocken, PA 19426. Agent—Piedmont Talent Inc., PO Box 680006, Charlotte, NC 28216.

Once he started to play and compose music again, Williams found it impossible to stop. Only two months after picking up his guitar, the bluesman returned to playing regular gigs in 2000 and 2001. Eventually he also returned to the studio, with Shurman as producer, laying down the tracks that began his 2002 release from Evidence Music, Return of a Legend. Williams's first solo effort reiterated hit songs from the artist's glory days, but also hinted at a new incarnation for the bluesman. Critics showered praise on the album, which showcased the guitar pyrotechnics that had put Williams in a class by himself decades earlier.

Making up for lost time, Williams followed up with a sophomore solo album, You Left Me in the Dark, released on the Evidence label in 2004. The recording afforded Williams the opportunity to reunite with former collaborators Robert Lockwood Jr. and Lonnie Brooks. It also gave Williams a chance to present new songs composed in a period of prolific creativity.

Meanwhile, Williams had picked up part-time work as a automated teller machine technician for its health care benefits and to make some extra cash. But as his second incarnation as a blues player picked up steam, it seemed likely that he would once again be able to devote full time to music.

Fans both old and young have responded with enthusiasm to Williams's comeback to the blues scene—whether they had eagerly followed his early career or were discovering him for the first time. The praise, applause, and star treatment that followed all came as a surprise to the musician, who was finally receiving the recognition that had eluded him in his early career.

Williams himself has expressed amazement at his renewed popularity. "For someone who never, ever intended to play guitar again, I've come an awful long ways," he told Sinkevics in the Grand Rapids Press.

Selected discography

Leading Brand [6 Track], Red Lightnin', 1977.

Return of a Legend, Evidence, 2002.

You Left Me in the Dark, Evidence, 2004.



Chicago Sun-Times, May 31, 2002, p. 22.

Grand Rapids Press, June 14, 2004, p. D1.

Knight Ridder Tribune News Service, September 30, 2002, p. 1.


"Jody Williams," All Music Guide, (August 27, 2004).

"Jody Williams," Evidence Music, (August 27, 2004).

"Jody Williams," Piedmont Talent, (August 30, 2004).

—Wendy Kagan

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Williams, Jody

Jody Williams, 1950–, American social activist, b. Putney, Vt., grad. Univ. of Vermont (B.A., 1972), School for International Training, Brattleboro, Vt. (M.A., 1976), Johns Hopkins (M.A., 1984). After teaching English as a second language in Mexico, Britain, and the United States, she settled in Los Angeles. She coordinated (1984–86) the Nicaragua-Honduras Education Project and was (1986–92) deputy director of Medical Aid to El Salvador. In 1992 she founded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), and until 1998 was its coordinator and chief spokesperson. In 1997, after the signing of a treaty banning the use, productions, stockpiling, and transfer of antipersonnel mines, she and ICBL were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Editor (1999–2004) of the group's Landmine Monitor Report, Williams continues to write and lecture as an ICBL international ambassador. In 2007 she was named leader of a United Nations mission investigating human-rights abuses in Darfur, Sudan.

See her After the Guns Fall Silent (with S. Roberts, 1995).

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