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Darryl Williams: A “towering figure” of peace

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Darryl Williams: A “towering figure” of peace
African American students and parents held a rally at City Hall Plaza to show their support for Darryl Williams shortly after his tragic shooting. (Photo: Banner file)

Author: Banner fileAfrican American students and parents held a rally at City Hall Plaza to show their support for Darryl Williams shortly after his tragic shooting.

The tallest man was often sitting down.

Darryl Williams, 46, died suddenly last month at his home in Milton, but not before leaving a legacy of peace that was triggered by a sniper during the busing crisis in Boston.

The shooting of Williams, then 15 years old and a wide receiver for the Jamaica Plain High School football team, left him a quadriplegic and widened deep-seated, racial divisions in a city resisting the court-ordered desgergation efforts.

“He was unable to stand up,” said Richard Lapschick, who hired Williams to be an outreach specialist for the Northeastern University Center for the Study of Sport in Society, “but what a towering figure he was for social justice. He knew if our children could hate, they could learn to love.”

Williams was shot on Sept. 28, 1979, after catching his first varsity pass during the game against Charlestown. He was standing in the end zone when teammates saw him fall from a bullet fired from a rooftop across the street. Three white youths were later arrested in connection with the shooting.

A jury later convicted Stephen McGonagle, who has since died, of firing the shot that hit Williams. McGonagle claimed he was trying to shoot pigeons and did not intend to hit Williams.

Aside from working as a motivational speaker for Northeastern, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in human resources management, he held a job for many years with the Massachusetts State Lottery.

Williams life was celebrated during his funeral service at Eliot Congregational Church in Roxbury.

“I never met anyone in my whole life who had more reason to be bitter than Darryl,’’ said Joe Fitzgerald, a columnist from the Boston Herald, during a eulogy. “And yet, he didn’t. . .  He was just a remarkable guy.’’

Williams had another friend in the media. Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy said in published reports that Williams has a “special place in Boston history.’’

“He taught us not to hate, not to complain,’’ he said, adding later, “There was no greater honor than to have Darryl consider me his brother.’’

In a March 29 column headlined “To the end, a man felled by hatred rose above it,” Shaughnessy wrote about an interview he had with Williams.

“I made peace with my situation long ago,’’ Williams told Shaughnessy. “I understand where hostility and ignorance come from and I’m able to rise above it. Ultimately, it has a lot to do with knowing that other people look to me for inspiration. They get inspiration and strength from me and that makes me feel honored.’’

“That was just Darryl,” Shaughnessy wrote. “It was his nature. He reasoned that the bullet had given him more time to think. He put all that extra thinking to good use and dedicated his life to making the rest of us think.”

A fund has been established to assist the Williams family with the cost of the funeral services. Donations can be forwarded to: The Darryl Williams Fund c/o Mt. Washington Bank, 430 West Broadway, South Boston, MA, 02127.

Material from wire and media reports contributed to this story.