‘Vinnie’ Williams

Mar 1, 2020

Vivian Marie “Vinnie” Ahlsweh Williams, 99, of Watkinsville, Georgia, died January 17, 2020.

She was an award-winning novelist, reporter, editor and newspaper publisher. She is survived by her daughter, Marie DeWitt (Maridee) Williams, who will succeed her as publisher of The Oconee Enterprise, a 136-year-old weekly broadsheet covering Oconee County, Georgia.

Williams was born July 16, 1920, in a house in Chicora, a small subdivision outside Charleston, South Carolina.

She officially began her newspaper career in 1943 at the Sarasota (Florida) Herald-Tribune — although at the age of 16, she was already writing for the Evening Independent in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Williams’ appetite for the written word was inherited from her father, Joseph Hari Ahlsweh, an immigrant from Alsace-Lorraine, a territory between France and Germany. Speaking only German, Ahlsweh arrived on Ellis Island on a freighter after fleeing his poverty-stricken homeland. In America, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and retired as a chief petty officer. Ahlsweh met Williams’ mother, Vivian Estelle Francis, an art student. She was a member of an old Dutch family.

Williams graduated in 1941 from Florida State College for Women, now Florida State University, where she was a member of The Mortar Board — the first national honor society for college senior women. She received an honorary Ph.D. in literature from FSU upon publication of her novel, “Walk Egypt,” which was selected for the Book of the Month Club and optioned several times for a movie.

Williams wrote four novels during her life: “The Fruit Tramp,” “Walk Egypt,” “I Resign You, Stallion” and “Greenbones.” Upon her death, Williams had several unfinished manuscripts.

While working at The McDuffie Progress in Thomson, Georgia, Williams documented government corruption and business malpractices, including a manufacturer who was discharging polluted water back into the streams. In 1981, Williams was recruited by Pete McCommons and Chuck Searcy of the Athens (Georgia) Observer, which owned The Oconee Enterprise, to serve as editor. Williams purchased The Enterprise in 1986 and maintained ownership the remainder of her life. While serving as publisher, Williams was committed to daily reporting into her 90s and penned her last column well past her 99th birthday.

Williams was named Marquis Who’s Who in America in 2004 and was honored 10 years later by the Gold Club of the Georgia Press Association for a career spanning half a century.

“Ms. Vinnie was a pillar of Oconee County and a pioneer in her field,” said Gov. Brian Kemp. “As a longtime subscriber to The Enterprise, I know she will be deeply missed at the paper and by the local community.”