Former Wisconsin Rep. Annette "Polly" Williams, mother of "School Choice" passes away at 77

MADISON (WITI) -- FOX6 News has learned of the passing of former state Representative Annette "Polly" Williams. She was 77 years old.

Williams was the longest-serving woman in the Wisconsin Legislature -- and she is being remembered as the pioneer of the state's "School Choice" program.

Williams was outspoken, respected and loved. Born in 1937, she seemingly spent her entire life dedicated to a single cause.

"My fight is for our, for my black children -- to be able to access this system and get the best that this system offers," Williams said in her fight for "School Choice."

In 1980, Williams was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly. She would serve 10 terms -- never letting go of the values she held so dear.

"When I first came in, we were only three blacks in the Assembly.  That`s out of 99 people.  We had to stick together," former state Rep. and state Senator Spencer Coggs said.

Coggs worked side-by-side with Williams for most of his political career.

"She had gone gray early and she used that to her advantage.  She`d talk to people and say, 'baby, you gotta do this a certain way,'" Coggs said.

"School Choice" was Williams' baby. She drafted the legislation and made education her platform.

"She wanted it for low-income people -- to have an alternative and choice," Coggs said.

Via social media on Sunday, November 9th, Congresswoman Gwen Moore called Williams "a political powerhouse" -- saying "May her memory be a blessing."

For some, memories of the rough times now seem almost trivial.

"We did not agree on everything -- but you always knew Polly's heart was in the right place," state Rep. Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) said.

Sinicki was often at odds with Williams over "School Choice," but the two had offices right next to each other at the Capitol.

"Don`t tell anybody, but I used to go her office and watch soap operas with her," Sinicki said.

The two put aside their differences off the Assembly floor.

"She came in at a time when women weren`t really supposed to have that strong voice.  She changed that for us.  I really believe she changed that for us," Sinicki said.

When Williams retired in 2011, everyone knew her fight wasn't over.

"She had a radio program once a week and she always gave her opinions and she was very, very opinionated. If I had to guess, I'd say Polly would be delighted if someone named a school after her. Education was her love," Coggs said.

Governor Scott Walker issued this statement on Williams' passing:

"Representative Williams was a dedicated public servant and I am saddened to hear of her passing. I had the honor of serving with her in the State Assembly.  She was dedicated to her district, to her community, and most importantly, to the students who benefited from her work on school choice.  Tonette and I send our thoughts and prayers to her family and friends during this difficult time."

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who served with Williams in the Wisconsin Assembly in the 1980s issued this statement on Williams' passing:

"I served with Polly in the Assembly in the 1980s. She was a fierce fighter for what she believed was right for African-American children living in poverty.  She was relentless on the education front and would go up against absolutely anybody and fight for what she believed in. She was the mother of 'School Choice.'"

Congresswoman Gwen Moore issued this statement on Williams' passing:

"Annette 'Polly' Williams was a political powerhouse in Wisconsin and throughout the nation, leaving behind a proud, historic legacy of public service. She was fiercely independent, a free thinker whose determination was only matched by her compassion and concern for her constituents. I knew Polly not only as a colleague and mentor, but as a cherished friend. Polly, however powerful, perfected the ‘servant leader’ model. She inspired me and other legislators across Wisconsin, demonstrating honest leadership through service. As an example, she prepared meals for bereaved families stricken by tragedy and provided her entire community for the annual free holiday feast. She was an example not only to those who wished to serve, but also to all who shared her eagerness to make a difference in their community. Thank you, our beloved Polly, for leaving us with your eternal flame of service that will continue to ignite us as we work with renewed fervor to serve the people.”

Rep. Leon Young (D-Milwaukee) issued this statement on Williams' passing:

“I am deeply shocked and saddened by the sudden death of Representative Polly Williams. Polly was both a mentor and a trusted colleague, who was always willing to impart some sage advice for the asking. Rep. Williams will be remembered for a myriad of accomplishments during her lifetime -- and rightfully so. Naturally, she is known as the mother of School Choice and for being the longest-serving woman in the Legislature. However, one of Rep. Williams’ greatest attributes was her unbridled compassion and commitment to the issues she believed in. Our community and state has lost a spirited statesperson and advocate. I ask that ours thoughts and prayers go out to Rep. Williams’ family at this most difficult time and pray that God’s grace will provide comfort and solace.”