JCA’s first president Roy Williams going strong at 95

by Ron Fanfair
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Roy Williams and his wife Grace Williams.

By RON FANFAIR
Canada was expected to be a pit stop for Roy Williams when he left Jamaica in 1951 to pursue higher education.
He says the plan was to go to the United States for his first degree, then to Canada for a Master’s, return south of the border for his PhD and head back to Jamaica to live happily ever after.
After completing a Business Administration degree in two years at Emmanuel Missionary College (now St. Andrews University) in Michigan, Williams enrolled in the University of Toronto’s Commerce program.
While at U of T, the Jamaican Canadian Association’s (JCA) Founding President fell in love and married in 1955, the same year he graduated.
“After that, plans changed,” he said. “I did another degree in Economics to do a doctorate in the discipline. In those days, you had to have two foreign languages, one of which was German as a requirement to complete a PhD. I decided I was not going to do the doctorate.”
Having a wife to support meant Williams had to seek employment.
Getting a job was challenging as there were no responses to the dozens of resumes he sent for work in the field he studied.
With printing industry knowledge, having learned the trade at West Indies College which transitioned to Northern Caribbean University (NCU) in Mandeville, Williams sought employment in that area.
As a typesetting operator, he worked part-time at night while completing his Master’s. About nine months in the role, he was without a job when the company downsized.
Williams held a similar position at the Globe & Mail at night while working with Employment Canada before deciding to make a career change.
Seeking to utilize his Business Administration degree, he applied to a Chartered Accounting firm in 1962 and was successful.
Set to start the position, the 1989 Harry Jerome Award winner received a surprise call from Ryerson (now Toronto Metropolitan) University.
“My wife took the message because I was not home at the time,” said Williams who taught accounting at NCU and fulfilled the requirements for a PhD without a thesis. “When I phoned on the weekend, the caller on the other line told me to come and see him right away because he had an opening to fill by Monday. I mentioned I was about to start a new job that same day and he re-iterated he needed someone in the classroom on Monday morning to teach Accounting & Law.” 
With the persuasion of Charlie Temple who was the Dean of the Ted Rogers School of Management from 1952 to 1970, he turned down the accounting firm’s offer and accepted the teaching position.
At around the same time, Williams met Esmond Ricketts, a music teacher who served in the two World Wars. 
The ardent Garveyite was an active member of the United Negro Improvement Association, the Negro Citizenship Association and the United Negro Credit Union.
With Jamaica transitioning from a British colony to an independent state, Ricketts – who died in 1971 – insisted that Jamaicans in Toronto get together to celebrate the momentous occasion.
An ad hoc committee comprising of Williams as the Chair, Ricketts, Bromley Armstrong, Phyllis White, George King, Catherine Williams, Leyton Ellis and Kenneth Simpson planned and executed the historic celebration at the King Edward Hotel on King St. E. on August 6, 1962, the same day Jamaica achieved its independence.
“This was the first time that a hotel in Toronto rented their facility to a Black group,” said Williams. “That was huge for us. Representatives from the federal, provincial and municipal governments attended. We had a good time and the ad hoc group suggested we become an association.”
Armstrong chaired the Constitution Committee and the draft was accepted at a meeting in September 1962 at the then YMCA building at 40 College St. which is now the site of Toronto Police Service headquarters.
Williams was elected the JCA’s first president.
Under his leadership, the new association created a credit union and advocated for a consular office in the city which was established in 1977 with the late Oswald ‘Ossie’ Murray as Consul General and Leonard Coke as Consul.
The JCA quickly became a voice for Blacks and other minorities facing discrimination.
In late 1962, a young Black woman who resided on Drewry Ave. in North York was on her way home from the afternoon shift at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) when she was detained by police.
“They wanted to know what she was doing in that part of the city at night,” recalled Williams. “She didn’t know who to turn to, so she came to us and we made our first intervention. We went to the police station to get answers. It was at that point that we saw a need for us to look out for new immigrants coming to the city who were not treated properly.
“In many cases, people were rejected when seeking housing. They were also told they were overqualified or not qualified for jobs. Children coming from the Caribbean were placed in Grades lower than the ones they should have been in.” 
Advocating for Blacks on agencies, boards and commissions led to Williams being appointed a board member of Ontario Place Corporation. The new position opened the door for him to hobnob at social events with some of the city’s influencers. 
Invited by then Toronto Police Service Board (TPSB) Chair Clare Westcott (he celebrated his 100th birthday last month) to a luncheon to mark Murray’s retirement from the diplomatic service in 1986 after 14 years in Canada, the last 10 as Consul General, Williams overheard a conversation around his table about finding a suitable Black person to sit on the police board.
“When I got back to my office, I received a call from then Ontario Premier David Peterson’s political assistant Trevor Wilson, requesting I send them my resume right away,” he said. “At the same time, Bromley was raising hell, badgering Peterson about appointing someone from the Black community to fill the position.”
Williams made history in 1987 as the first person of colour appointed to the TPSB.
The early days were extremely challenging for the trailblazer who played a role in the 1989 appointment of Tom Sosa as Ontario’s first Black deputy minister. 
Stopped by police on his way home one evening, he was charged with obstruction after failing to hand over his car keys to an officer.
“I was given a conditional discharge by the Judge and when I returned to my Board duties, some members openly said there is a criminal on the Board,” said Williams who was a member of the Race Relations & Policing Task Force headed by Clare Lewis. “When the Chair inquired what happened, I bluntly told him the police lied, and went on with the work of pushing for the Service to hire and promote visible minority and female officers.
“When I joined, the Chief presented a list of promotions that the Board rubber stamped. When I inquired if there were visible minorities on the list, the Chief would say he doesn’t know. When he asked if I would like to know, my reply was ‘Yes’.”
While on the Board, Williams took a lot of flak for supporting late community activist Dudley Laws who co-founded the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) in 1988 after police fatally shot Lester Donaldson.
Arrested in 1991 for allegedly smuggling illegal aliens into the United States, Laws won an appeal and the charges were dropped in exchange for him doing community service. The Toronto Police Association also sued him that year for defamation.
“At the end of a community meeting where Dudley’s harassment by police was discussed, I suggested we create a fund to help with his legal expenses,” Williams said. “A reporter picked up the story and the headline in one of the mainstream newspapers was that the Toronto Police Association head said I should resign. At around the same time, I owned a house on Madison Ave. and had some difficulty getting a permit to do some renovations. I was off the Board for a while before returning.”
The shrewd businessman, who owned real estate, entertainment, ethnic foods and beauty salon businesses in the city, stepped down from the Board at the end of his second three-year term in 1993.
A year later, Williams retired from Ryerson after 34 years and returned to Jamaica in 1995 where he served as a Professor of Management & Organizational Behaviour at NCU until 2007 when he came back to the Greater Toronto Area.
After his term as JCA President expired in March 1966, Williams’ involvement with the organization was minimal for 14 years until his return in 1980. Serving on the executive and social committees, he was elected president for a second time in 1984.
During his five-year tenure, the JCA acquired a building in 1985 at 1621 Dupont St. and, three years later, became a United Way member agency. The organization also joined other global groups in denouncing South Africa’s apartheid regime.
At the start of his second term, the JCA occupied a small two-room office on Dufferin St. with no permanent staff. When he left, the organization has its own building with a manageable mortgage, eight staff members in three locations and a vibrant Senior Citizens group.
“I am proud of bringing the JCA to a position through the 1980s to the early part of this century as an organization that spoke out for the community,” said Williams, who authored ‘The Jamaican Canadian Association: Portrait of a Community Organization’. “The JCA is a brand that has and is doing great things for the betterment of people. We have our own building which is a meeting place and hub for the community.”
Proceeds from the sale of the building at 1621 Dupont St. and a $368,000 bank loan were used to purchase the JCA’s current headquarters at 995 Arrow Rd. 
Celebrating his 95th birthday last April 22, Williams remains active.
The staunch Seventh-day Adventist attends church on Saturdays and some community events. He also spends an hour three times a week in his condo gym on the treadmill, rowing machine and the stationary bike.
“When I was 87, I was lying in bed when I saw a promotional video on television, encouraging seniors to participate in some physical activities,” said Williams who supports several charities. “That was when I decided I would use the gym in my building which I had never used before.”
With his first wife, Catherine Williams, who is deceased, the couple had four children.
He and his second wife of 36 years, Grace Williams, have one child.

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