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VOL. 122 | NO. 34 | Friday, February 23, 2007

Don't Miss This Visit

By Lindsay Jones

Print | Front Page | Email this story | Email reporter | Comments ()

Betty Williams enjoys dressmaking and gardening, walking her dog, reading, swimming and writing, according to her curriculum vitae at www.nobelprize.org.

She attended Catholic schools growing up - St. Teresa's Primary School and St. Dominic's Grammar School in Northern Ireland. Her father worked as a butcher and her mother was a housewife. Williams had two children with her first husband, Ralph: a son, Paul, and a daughter, Deborah. While she was raising her kids, she worked as a receptionist.

Sounds pretty ordinary, doesn't she?

But Williams, who was born in Belfast in May 1943 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977, is anything but ordinary.

She will appear today at 5 p.m. in Room 136 of the Fogelman Executive Center at the University of Memphis. The event is being sponsored by the university's Student Activities Council (SAC), Rhodes College and BRIDGES PeaceJam.

"PeaceJam here in this region is a program of BRIDGES (Inc.) in partnership with Rhodes College," said Rody Thompson, director of the local program. "After (her presentation) at the University of Memphis, all weekend, beginning Saturday morning and continuing through Saturday night and all day Sunday, Betty Williams is serving as a host for a conference that will include 250 high school students and 50 Rhodes College students."

During the conference, students will be involved in workshops and community service projects and will participate in Williams' Apprenticeship in Peacemaking.

Some of Williams' other accolades include a law degree from Yale University, the Norwegian People's Peace Prize, the Schweitzer Medallion for Courage, the Carl von Ossietzky Medal for Courage from the Berlin section of the International League of Human Rights, the Martin Luther King Jr. Award, the Eleanor Roosevelt Award, the Rotary Club International Paul Harris Fellowship and an appointment in 1992 by then-Texas Gov. Ann Richards to the state's Commission for Children and Youth plus other honors.

Williams, an outspoken critic of President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq, now heads the Global Children's Foundation and is president of the World Centers of Compassion for Children International. She also serves as chair of the Institute for Asian Democracy in Washington and is a distinguished visiting professor at Nova Southeastern University in Florida.

Aside from her glowing resume, Williams is best known for co-founding the Community of Peace People, formerly known as the Northern Ireland Peace Movement or Women for Peace.

Right before she drew the notice of media outlets far and wide, Williams witnessed the deaths of three Catholic girls Aug. 10, 1976, in west Belfast - a scene described as "horrific" by Irish news accounts. The children were hit by a car driven by Danny Lennon, a fugitive and member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who also was reputed to be a close friend of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

Sinn Fein, which means "ourselves" or "we ourselves" in Gaelic, is a political party dedicated to Irish Republicanism. It's also considered a front for the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA, or, more commonly, the IRA).

The IRA's agenda since its creation in 1969 has been to unite Ireland by overthrowing the governments of Northern Ireland, which is considered part of the United Kingdom, and southern Ireland (the independent Republic of Ireland). The organization also is considered a terrorist group within the United Kingdom.

The police had been chasing Lennon when a soldier shot him, causing his getaway car to careen onto a sidewalk, killing the girls.

Williams, who heard the crash and was the first person on the scene, two days later gathered 6,000 signatures on a peace petition. Along with the girls' aunt, Mairead Corrigan, who also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977, Williams co-founded the Community of Peace People to promote an end to violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

Williams and Corrigan organized several rallies in the Community's heyday, including a march of 10,000 Protestant and Catholic women to the graves of the slain girls.

While later stories in the Irish Independent and other newspapers have disparaged the Community as being "a small-scale organization which (now) stirs little national interest," the Community's ideals live on through Williams' continued outspokenness on issues of war and peace.

"That first week (of founding the Community) will always be remembered, of course, for something else besides the birth of the Peace People," Williams said in her Nobel acceptance speech. "For those most closely involved, the most powerful memory of that week was the death of a young Republican and the deaths of three children struck by the dead man's car. A deep sense of frustration at the mindless stupidity of the continuing violence was already evident before the tragic events of that sunny afternoon of Aug. 10, 1976.

"But the deaths of those four young people in one terrible moment of violence caused that frustration to explode and create the possibility of a real peace movement. ... As far as we are concerned, every single death in the last eight years, and every death in every war that was ever fought, represents life needlessly wasted, a mother's labor spurned."

These are the Community's basic tenets:
We have a simple message to the world from this movement for peace.
We want to live and love and build a just and peaceful society.
We want for our children, as we want for ourselves, our lives at home, at work and at play to be lives of joy and peace.
We recognize that to build such a society demands dedication, hard work and courage.
We recognize that every bullet fired and every exploding bomb make that work more difficult.
We reject the use of the bomb and the bullet and all the techniques of violence.
We dedicate ourselves to working with our neighbors, near and far, day in and day out, to build that peaceful society in which the tragedies we have known are a bad memory and a continuing warning.

Amen and hallelujah. Can't wait to meet you tonight, Betty.

For more information on Williams' visit, call 678-2035.

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