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Pioneer publisher, wife of territorial secretary, dies at age 98

Posted: Wednesday, September 27, 2000

KETCHIKAN (AP) -- Winifred E. Williams, a retired newspaper publisher and wife of a territorial secretary of Alaska, died Thursday at the Pioneers' Home here. She was 98.

She was born Winifred Dow in Tacoma, Wash., July 15, 1902. Her mother, a musician, encouraged her to perform as a child in Vaudeville on the Pantages stage in Tacoma.

As a teen-ager, her engineer father coached her to become one of the nation's first licensed women amateur radio operators. She was a charter member and first secretary of the Tacoma Radio club with the call sign 7FG, Seven First Girl.

When a Tacoma newspaper publisher started a radio station, he hired Winifred for her technical expertise and then transferred her to the newspaper as a reporter.

She married another reporter, Lew M. Williams Sr., a World War I Navy radio man, who she met when he helped set up the radio station.

As a publicity stunt for the newspaper in 1930-1931, she became what was believed to be the first woman to earn an airplane pilot's license in the Pacific Northwest. She was the subject of several articles about a mother of three learning to fly.

The Williams family moved to Juneau in 1935 where Mr. Williams worked as a reporter and editor for the Daily Alaska Empire.

In 1939, the Williams' bought the weekly Wrangell Sentinel where Mrs. Williams helped operate the typesetting and printing equipment.

The pair owned and operated the Sentinel for 25 years.

Part of that time, the Williams' leased the paper to other editors while Mr. Williams served as secretary of Alaska (now called lieutenant governor). That came while Ernest Gruening was territorial governor.

Winifred Williams worked occasionally then as a reporter for the Empire. The Williams' sold their newspaper and retired in 1964.

Lew Williams Sr. died in 1972.

Mrs. Williams is survived by daughters Susan Pagenkopf of Juneau and Jane Ferguson in the Lower 48 and by her son, Lew M. Williams Jr. of Ketchikan.

Graveside services were conducted Monday at Wrangell.

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