Theodore D. Williamson, a Niagara Falls funeral director who served on the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority board of commissioners for more than a decade, died Thursday in Buffalo General Hospital from complications of surgery. He was 86.
A native of Aiken, S.C., Mr. Williamson moved to Niagara Falls as a youngster and graduated from Niagara Falls High School in 1941. He served in the Marine Corps during World War II.
Mr. Williamson became interested in establishing a funeral home when he felt his family was badly mistreated by a funeral director they had sought out for arrangements.
"The women wouldn't even let them in the door. She cracked it open to ask if they had enough money to pay," his son Michael said.
Family members said they didn't have the money at the moment, but would later, and the women replied that they should come back when they could afford to pay.
Mr. Williamson "vowed that no one would ever have that experience" in his funeral home, his son said.
The Williamson Funeral Home was established in 1960 with the help of his father, Joseph.
Mr. Williamson operated what is believed to be the longest sustained black-owned business in Niagara Falls.
In addition to being a funeral director, he worked as an insurance consultant for Metropolitan Life Co. and invested in properties in the Niagara Falls area.
He also served in a variety of volunteer positions in the community, and in 1989 he received the Civil Rights Achievement Award from the Niagara Chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews and the Niagara Community Center for best personifying the ideals and principles of Martin Luther King Jr.
Mr. Williamson was an NFTA commissioner from 1986 to 1998.
In 2000, he was invited to sit on a "visionary team" to assist then-Niagara Falls Mayor Irene J. Elia in setting a course for the direction of the city.
Mr. Williamson was a life member of New Hope Baptist Church and was involved with the Lions Club, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Niagara Community Center, among other civic groups.
In addition to his son Michael, with whom he operated the funeral home for the past 30 years, survivors include his wife of 58 years, the former Gertrude Cheatham; two other sons, Douglas Anderson and Theodore D. Jr.; three daughters, Tanya Moore, Lenore Jean Mulkey and Michelle Culver; a brother, William; and three sisters, Thelma Cheatham, Barbara Walker and Mary Baham.
A service will be held at noon today in New Hope Baptist Church, 1122 Buffalo Ave., Niagara Falls.