A long-time teacher, coach, school board trustee and business owner, Len Williams, lost his battle with cancer on Friday, and passed away at the age of 62 years.
Diagnosed last year with stomach cancer, Williams has been fighting the disease with the support of his family, who were with him when he passed away on Friday. A funeral service was held on Tuesday afternoon at Grace United Church.
He was a teacher and coach at the Weyburn Comprehensive School and in the community for over 40 years, and with wife Jacquie had been owner of the Super Bowl bowling alley until they sold the business last year.
Williams was also one of two trustees for the City of Weyburn on the Southeast Cornerstone School Division, and had attended their most recent meeting in June.
His lifelong best friend, teacher Gary Frederickson, paid tribute to him, citing a sharp intellect, knowledge of sports and his compassion and love of people.
“I was an only child, so he was the closest I will ever have to a brother. I’ll miss him. I’m really glad I knew him,” he said.
Noting his relationship with Len extended almost 60 years, as they grew up about a block apart and roomed together at university, he said, “Len was one of the smartest people I had ever met.
He has a tremendous intellect; he was interested in a million different things and was knowledgable about a ton of things. He was incredibly honest, with a big heart and compassionate.”
He noted that his family was a major part of his life, and a major goal was to be able to see his twin sons Rhett and Reece graduate, which he was present for on June 5, and he spoke at the graduation ceremonies.
“He really loved his family, with his brothers and sisters; he was very very proud of all of them, and they brought him a lot of joy; that’s an important part of who he was,” said Frederickson.
“He had an incredible fighting spirit, that combination of visceral grit and intellect; it’s kind of rare, and he was never afraid to take on a challenge,” said Frederickson, adding that the cancer was a battle that he fought right to the end.
As a coach, Frederickson said he was the best fundamentals coach he had ever encountered anywhere, and it was due entirely to Len that he got into coaching in the early 1970s, “and I’ve coached ever since.”
“He was a real student of fundamentals, and his teams were always the best prepared,” said Frederickson, adding nobody was better at analyzing and planning game strategy, as “he put his strengths against your weaknesses.”
A lot of people don’t realize the extent of his coaching success, he added, noting that of the 46 or so banners in the Comp gym, Len has had a hand in at least 33 of them, and said for Len coaching wasn’t just for games, “it was a lifestyle; he was always coaching. It’s the end of an era.”
Len’s death comes almost one year exactly since a fundraiser evening was held to help establish the Len Williams Coaching Legacy, organized by Frederickson and other friends, and attended by all of his siblings save one, and many, many former students and teaching colleagues.
Bryan Wilson worked alongside him as a teacher and principal and the Comp, and served along with him on the Cornerstone school board.
“He was a hard worker, and he gave his complete efforts and compassion to the things he truly believed in; he fought hard for what he believed in,” said Wilson.
“As a coach, I think his greatest strength was analyzing talent in students; he had an eye for abilities that other people might miss. He saw things that other people don’t see, and coached to maximize those potentials. He was good at that,” he added, noting that he also held those in authority to a high standard, and made people accountable for their decisions, as a coach and as a school trustee.
“He was a colleague and someone I used as a reference for a lot of things; when I was coaching, he helped me a lot. He never said no. If you asked him to do something for the school, he was very quick about dedicating his abilities to a cause, and he was a fighter to the end,” said Wilson, adding that his speech at grad was one of the best speeches he had ever heard Len give.
Drew Krainyk, now at university, had Williams as a teacher and a coach.
“The best way to sum up Len is he put everything he had into everything he did, whether it was teaching or coaching, and did everything possible to make sure you did the same. He got a lot out of his students and athletes, because you knew he was giving everything he had. He had a 110-per-cent commitment of his abilities to everything,” he said.
Amy Ferner, Frederickson’s daughter, is now a teacher and coach herself, and said that is entirely due to what Len taught her.
“He was actually the reason I got into teaching,” she said, noting when she did her internship at the Comp, she was mentored by Len and by Wanda Pegg.
“He has influenced every part of my life; everything I’ve done, I’ve wondered if he would be proud of me and okay with what I was doing. I know he was not perfect, but what he did was hold a mirror up, and you either like what you see or you don’t. I always tried to make sure that what I was doing was something he would be proud of,” said Ferner.
“Everything I want to be as a coach has been influenced by him; the way I am with my kids, the way I coach, it’s all part of what I learned from him,” she added.