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Manufacturing CEO Beth Williams, ‘one of our brightest lights in the Black community,’ dies at 57

Beth Williams, Roxbury Technology CEO, spoke during 2013 CEO round table.
Beth Williams, Roxbury Technology CEO, spoke during 2013 CEO round table.Yoon S. Byun/Globe staff

As a prominent, pioneering Black woman in Boston’s chief executive ranks, Beth Williams measured the success of her business by more than just profits. It was “a means to improve a community,” she once said.

“If people have jobs or access and training for them,” she told the Bay State Banner, “the desperation and need to perpetuate many of the social problems in our community, I believe, would slowly begin to diminish.”

Taking over as president and chief executive of Roxbury Technology Corp. after the 2002 death of her father, Archie Williams, she realized his dream — and hers — of turning it into a larger company that created jobs for people of color in the community where they lived.

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“A lot of people talk about keeping in mind where you come from,” said former governor Deval Patrick. “She lived it.”

Ms. Williams, who had survived a brain aneurysm several years ago, was 57 when she died in her Hyde Park home, where her son found her Wednesday. A cause of death has not yet been determined.

“We lost one of our brightest lights in the Black community and the business world,” said her friend Colette Phillips, president and chief executive of Colette Phillips Communications. “She was a role model, a mentor. Many young aspiring women, particularly women of color, looked up to her as, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’ "

Lisa Guscott, president and chief executive of Long Bay Management, called Ms. Williams “an incredible woman” who was committed to helping those in the community who weren’t being helped by others.

“We talked twice a day. Our paths were similar in that we ended up running our fathers’ businesses,” said Guscott, who leads the company cofounded by her father, Kenneth Guscott. “Our fathers were very much in the community and about giving back. She always wanted to continue that legacy of her father’s. She was such a giving person.”

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And Ms. Williams told Inc. Magazine in 2006: “That’s what I wanted, to realize my dad’s dream, his legacy.”

Roxbury Technology makes and sells remanufactured toner cartridges for laser printers, fax machines, and copiers.

Executives and friends noted that Ms. Williams was a business leader for both her hiring of marginalized workers, such as former nonviolent offenders who had done jail time, and for guiding her company into the green economy.

“She was inclusion before there was inclusion,” said Joan Harrington, a retired career connections facilitator for Boston Public Schools who praised her lifelong friend for “making sure Black folks who are male, who went to jail, got a second chance. She was very much her father’s and her mother’s daughter. They were about justice and service.”

Evelyn Murphy, the first woman to serve as the state’s lieutenant governor, and the first woman elected to a statewide office, said Ms. Williams’s “passion was bigger than just her company, and she contributed to the welfare and wealth of the Roxbury community in ways that went way beyond her business.”

Ms. Williams, she added, “was a generous, giving woman, giving more of herself than, I think, people realized.”

Phillips said that what she “loved most about Beth was her heart. She had that combination of what Nelson Mandela called formidable. He said that if you have a good head and a good heart, you are a formidable individual. She was a phenomenal woman.”

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Elizabeth Ann Williams was born in Boston on Aug. 10, 1963, and grew up in Roxbury.

Her mother, Norma Bartos Williams, was a nurse who was active in community charitable causes. Her father, Archie Williams, was a civil rights attorney and an entrepreneur.

To spur economic growth in Roxbury, he founded Freedom Industries, which grew to include Freedom Foods grocery stores and an advertising firm, along with tool and die and electronics and engineering companies.

Ms. Williams graduated from Beaver Country Day School and her father’s alma mater, Brown University.

“She was funny, she was beautiful, she loved her family,” said her older sister, Donna Williams of Roslindale. “Her outstanding qualities were her kindness, her determination.”

Harrington, who became friends with Donna as a young child, said that “Beth was the kind of person who was always looking out for somebody else, even as a toddler.”

Ms. Williams was particularly close to her younger brother, David, an honor student who was 22 when he was murdered while taking on the role of a peacemaker, trying to break up a fight at a Cambridge party in 1986.

“We lost our brother to murder,” Donna said through tears.

Donna said she had spent the night at her sister’s home the Friday before Ms. Williams died. “When she dropped me back home Saturday afternoon, I said, ‘I love you,’ and she said, ‘I love you forever.’ "

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Ms. Williams, whose marriage had ended in divorce, “adored her son,” Donna said.

“My mom was special. She was my biggest hero,” Kameron Nobles said of his mother on Saturday, unable to speak about her without crying. “People always say, ‘Who do you want to be when you grow up?’ It was my mom.”

“I lost the one person who always had my back,” he added. “I would trade every single thing to get her back.”

After graduating from Brown, Ms. Williams worked as a production control manager in Freedom Electronics, owned by her father, and then joined Raytheon’s missile systems division, where she rose to become the small minority business liaison officer.

She then worked on the procurement team for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts before being appointed director of business diversity.

On Thanksgiving morning in 2002, Ms. Williams found her father, dead from a heart attack. Because she had a good job, she struggled with whether or not to take over Roxbury Technology, which he had founded in 1994.

One Sunday in church, she listened to a sermon titled “Courage When the Call Comes.”

“It changed my mind and challenged my will,” she told the Bay State Banner in 2010.

The Initiative for a Competitive Inner City and Inc. Magazine named Roxbury Technology and Ms. Williams the top minority-owned and top woman-owned company in 2008.

In a 2015 interview with the Globe, she spoke about how she had survived a brain aneurysm the previous year, and said that doctors had found an inoperable tumor, which they had been able to shrink.

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“After something like that,” Ms. Williams said, “I say God has me here for a reason.”

Plans for a memorial service are not complete for Ms. Williams, whose son and sister are her only immediate survivors. Ms. Williams also was a beloved aunt and role model for her niece, Christina Soares, Donna said.

“Beth was a titan,” her sister said.

She also was “the most unassuming person you ever met. She had the biggest, funniest, loudest laugh you ever heard. And it was authentic,” Harrington said. “Beth thought more of others than she thought of herself. She never thought she was a big deal.”

Ms. Williams, Guscott said, “was just a phenomenal woman. I know that God was waiting for her with open arms. She was the best of the best that God gave this earth. I really truly believe that.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.