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F. Earl Williams

F. Earl Williams at his desk
F. Earl Williams at his desk

F. Earl Williams was a dear and close friend of Robert Strong Woodward. Mr. Williams, his wife Ruth, and their little dog made frequent visits to the Woodward studio during the days I was working for RSW. I remember that he always brought several Cuban cigars to RSW and they would go out on the studio balcony to have a smoke every time he visited, or if in the winter, in front of the studio fireplace. F. Earl was one of the very few people who RSW allowed to photograph him. I think all of the ones depicted on the web site were taken by him. On several occasions I drove RSW in the Packard down to Gardner for a visit, a meal with them and then watch the latest Kodachrome slides of a recent trip they had taken.

F. Earl was principal of the Gardner High School at that time and was influential in the graduating classes donating a Woodward to the school at graduation time. The Little Red Barn (a painting of the Keach Farm on Charlemont Road in Buckland which RSW painted numerous times) and November Holiday (a typical fall painting of the famous beech tree on Burnt Hill in Heath, Mass.) were two of those paintings given to the Gardner High School by graduating classes.. They hung in the library there until a reconstruction period occurred, after which they were removed (allegedly for security reasons) to a locked room in the Gardner Public Library where they now hang near a Norman Rockwell painting. F. Earl also bequeathed an oil painting named c to Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Mass where it hangs, beautifully hung in a study room of the main library.

F. Earl Williams at Woodward's Heath pasture studio
F. Earl Williams outside Woodward's Heath pasture studio
According to the Woodward records Mr. Williams also owned oil paintings titled Aged Roofs, Early Sugaring #1, The North Mowing, When Blue Birds Come, Open Tulips and a chalk, The North Window. My wife and I visited F. Earl at his home in Amherst after the death of his wife. I remember him showing us these, and telling us that he worried about what would happen to his beloved paintings after he died, because he had no children. At that time he was still grieving the death of his wife, Ruth, and made the comment "it was so easy to get on this planet but it is so difficult to get off it."

In the will of RSW is the following paragraph:
Section of RSW Will giving paintings to F. Earl Williams -  3.  To F. Earl Williams, now of Cherry Street, Gardner, Massachusetts, any three of my finished oil paintings with appropriate frames, his choice of the lot to be first.
Paragraph from Robert Strong Woodward Will

One of his choices was Out of New England Soil, a large painting of a dilapidated old house near Warwick, MA. This he then donated to Deerfield Academy, his Alma Mata.

Robert Strong Woodward paintings hanging in the living room of F. E. Williams
RSW paintings hanging in the living room of F. E. Williams
It is not known what happened to all of the remainder of his oil paintings--whether he gave them away before he died or whether he bequeathed them in his will. It is known that the chalk drawing of The North Window, and an oil titled Open Tulips are much cherished by their current owner.

Robert Strong Woodward paintings hanging in the living room of F. E. Williams
F. E. Williams (far left) and Ruth Williams (far right).
During the most productive part of his life he was the principal of the Gardner High School in Gardner, Mass. Thereafter he worked for the Smithsonian. He was very interested in photography, taking, developing and enlarging many 35 mm black and white photographs. When Kodak developed the Kodachrome film he switched to this medium, and his "shows" consumed many pleasant evenings in the RSW studio.

Ruth died on Feb. 15, 1988, at age 86 and F. Earl continued to live in a small home near the University of Massachusetts. He was interested in creating medallions from stained glass and lead as a hobby while living alone.

F. Earl Williams Grave in Sunderland Cemetery
F. Earl Williams Grave in Sunderland Cemetery
He died on Jan 2, 1990, of Alzheimer's disease and a terminal cerebro-vascular accident in a nursing home in Sunderland, Massachusetts at age 88. His cremated remains were buried in the Sunderland Cemetery.

March 2010

F. Earl Williams
by his niece Barbara Roggeveen


Sycamore tree near the F. Earl Williams home in Sunderland
The author standing in front of the Sycamore
tree at the Williams home in Sunderland, MA
F. Earl Williams was born in the farm immediately behind this tree.
F. Earl Williams was born in the farmhouse
immediately behind this Sycamore tree.
Forest Earl Williams was born in Sunderland, Massachusetts, on September 18, 1902. His father was a veterinarian and farmer in Sunderland living in the house near the largest sycamore tree in Massachusetts.

From my conversational memories, Earl lived a hardworking life as a child. He did find some mischief to get into at times. In the early days of WW I, a delivery of bad gasoline was dumped into the drainage system of the town. He and a friend thought they would see what would happen if they dropped a match in one of the holes. Their exploit terrified the entire town when every sewer cover on the main street blew off and flames blew out of the drains into the Connecticut River. Some thought the Germans had sent a submarine up the river.

Greenfield Recorder clipping about the Sycamore Tree in Sunderland MA
Greenfield Recorder
After that exploit, Earl settled into a more adult routine of riding the trolley car across the Connecticut River and on to Deerfield Academy for his high school education. His deep appreciation of the education he received there was transmitted to all of his nieces and nephews. College education was completed at the University of Massachusetts.

After college he became principal of the high school in Agawam, Massachusetts. His future wife Ruth Bugbee also taught English at that school after graduating from Smith College. She was born at her grandparents' house in Barnet, Vermont, on August 3, 1901. Ruth grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts where her father was a dentist. Earl and Ruth were married on June 19, 1928. They had no children and instead focused attention on their students, friends, and family. Their wire-haired fox terriers, Pert and Bambi, and 2 poodles, Susy and Gaye were a part of their family.

Sometime during this period his deep friendship with Robert Strong Woodward developed either in their wanderings or through connections to Ruth's friends from Smith. After a long friendship Earl received Mr. Woodward's painting journal. Believing that his letters, painting journal, a scrapbook, printed material, notes, photographs. and slides relating to Woodward's work as a painter, and his friendship with Ruth and Earl should not be lost, Earl requested that they be donated to the Smithsonian Archives of American Art with a biographical sketch. They are listed in the Smithsonian collection and can be viewed in Washington DC.

After Earl's appointment as principal of Gardner (MA) High School, they settled there for many years. Earl was an accomplished photographer with pictures published in various magazines and even as a cover for Life Magazine. In order to develop art appreciation for the Gardner students they began a collection of various artists for the students of Gardner High. Robert Strong Woodward's friendship and advice were invaluable in this endeavor.

Ruth and Earl traveled the back roads of New England, Canada, Mexico, drove cross country, and visited Europe especially Switzerland. Earl's photography skills produced some stunning photographs during their travels. While in Germany and Switzerland they studied the teaching methods of Rudolf Stiener and the Waldorf Schools hoping to incorporate the best methods into the education of Gardner students.

A new period of joy and growth in their lives began when an American Field Service Student, Monika Ruppe Streissler from Salzburg, Austria lived with them for a year in the early 1950's. They loved this bright, beautiful young lady. Her family welcomed them on future trips to Europe. Monika letters over the years were frequent and appreciated. She was also able to visit several times after her children reached adulthood.

Notecard featuring a photograph taken by F. Earl William of a brook.
Greenfield Recorder.
In the mid 1950's, Earl and Ruth moved to Bryan Mar, Pennsylvania, when offered a position at the University of Pennsylvania. This was new area to explore with new photographic opportunities for Earl. Ruth began some teaching at the Baptist Institute near Bryan Mar. Here he also began a hobby of creating stained glass art which he shared with family and friends. Their beauty lightened many rooms.

Retirement brought Ruth and Earl full circle in the late 1960's and they moved back to Amherst. Earl enjoyed the area where he grew up. He loved sugaring on Mount Toby with his family. They both appreciated the many friends, lectures, and performances at the 5 colleges in the immediate area. It was a time to be near family, to enjoy friends - both new and old, to travel the familiar back roads of the area. Often they traveled to Buckland which they had come to love during Robert Strong Woodward's lifetime. They enjoyed summers at Harvey's Lake in Barnet, Vermont, as Ruth had done from childhood. This pleasure was given up only when Alzheimer's disease gradually stole Ruth's abilities to deal with daily life.

Finally it became necessary for Earl to have help with Ruth's care and she moved to a home in Sunderland. Earl made daily trips to be with her. Family and friends visited regularly, enriching Earl's life, and drawing glimpses of Ruth's past life from her. Her death February 15, 1988 brought a period of change to Earl's life. Deerfield Academy had a lovely exhibition of his photographs. Time caught up with Earl January 2nd 1990. He and Ruth are buried in Williams' family plot at the Sunderland MA cemetery on the ridge overlooking the Connecticut River.

A week before his death, my husband, children, and I spent a wonderful day with lunch in Christmas decorated Deerfield Inn with time to reminisce about Christmas and family visits from years past. Following lunch, there was a memory ride guided by Earl over the back roads of the area he loved, past the home he grew up in and places that were special to him. This has provided the family with a warm memory of a wonderful man who in his quiet way was an educator, artist and a friend to many.

Barbara Roggeveen,

Click here for a gallery of photographs taken by F. Earl Williams.