Rebecca Chase Williams, a former Brookhaven City Council member and mayor known by some as the “founding mother of Brookhaven,” died March 11.

Former Brookhaven Mayor Rebecca Chase Williams.

“It really is a sad day for Brookhaven,” said Mayor John Ernst in a text. “She was the mother of the city.”

Williams, who was also an award-winning national reporter for ABC News for more than 20 years, died peacefully at home surrounded by family, according to a Facebook post by her children and husband, Dick Williams. Dick Williams is the retired editor and publisher of the Dunwoody Crier newspaper and former host of the “Georgia Gang” news show on FOX 5. Rebecca Chase Williams wrote for the newspaper as well.

Williams was diagnosed with cancer several years ago, but she continued to remain active in the community. She had a “passionate devotion” to city parks, said City Councilmember Linley Jones, who was a close friend. She founded the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, which now attracts major music headliners and thousands of people to the city’s Blackburn Park. The City Council named two roads in Blackburn Park for her two years ago in honor of her service to the city and to parks.

In 2018, Williams helped lead the successful campaign to gain voter approval of a $40 million parks bond. She was also named an “Outstanding Georgia Citizen” in 2018 by former state Rep. Tom Taylor of Dunwoody.

“She outlived all reasonable expectations of her dire diagnosis and not only did she outlive it, she did so with purpose and joy,” said Jones.

“Rebecca was an amazing woman,” Jones said. “She was top female journalist before her years of activity with the city of Brookhaven … and she went on to be the founding mother of Brookhaven.

“We had many founding fathers, but if it were not for her efforts early on … for the city … it would never have been achieved,” Jones said.

rebecca williams way
FWilliams, center, officially had two roads in Blackburn Park named after her at the April 10, 2018, City Council meeting. From left are Councilmembers John Park and Linley Jones, Williams, Mayor John Ernst, and Councilmembers Joe Gebbia and Bates Mattison. (File)

As a journalist, Williams won Emmy awards for investigative and documentary reporting. Williams was a longtime neighborhood activist when she got involved in the cityhood movement that led to Brookhaven’s 2012 founding. She was elected to the first City Council and was appointed mayor in 2015 when J. Max Davis resigned to run for a state representative seat. Later that year, she dropped out of the mayoral race for the next term, starting in 2016, which was won by Ernst.

Ernst said he and Williams talked regularly and she “was always encouraging. I valued her advice,” he said.

Williams and her two dachshunds participate in the pet costume contest at the city’s 2017 Cherry Blossom Festival. (File)

“My heart goes out to Dick and her family. She was a titan to Brookhaven,” Ernst said.

Williams worked with a Brookhaven historical society, an extension of a local history project she funded with mayoral discretionary fund. The project led to the publication of a Brookhaven history book in the “Images of America” series.

Jones, an attorney, said Williams was a pioneer for other women who sought to make a difference in the professional world and in local government.

“There are so many people and so many women who are outspoken about their views or have positions about how things should be done and should be run, but there are so few who are willing to step up to the plate to take the slings and arrows of making progress,” Jones said.

“So much of the spirit of our city is thanks to Rebecca. She is irreplaceable,” Jones said. “She was just so brave. Brave to the end.”

Updated March 16: Visitation and the funeral for Rebecca Chase Williams have been postponed indefinitely.

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.