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Jackie Williams: Renaissance Woman
So my first day as a reporter I interviewed Joe Namath,
Lee Trevino, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Larry Nelson, Mike Ditka. 'This is my first day! ,' I said, 'How can this get any better?!'
Sitting on the blue couch in her family room filled with furniture her father made, Jackie was excitedly recalling her first day as a sports reporter for The Stuart News in 1992. It is but one of several paths she has pursued during her lifetime: athlete, educator, nonfiction author, freelance writer, award-winning film producer and scriptwriter, political and social advocate, and caretaker. Yes, Jackie truly embodies what it means to be a Renaissance woman. Skilled in a variety of areas, she has reinvented herself throughout the years as the need arose, always striving to educate and enlighten others. It is notable that she has attained success in her diverse careers and volunteer work even during those times when diversity itself was not as welcomed as it is today.
The Jersey Life
Jacquelyne Louise Williams was born to Charles and Frances Dorman on June 30, 1945 in Paterson, New Jersey. Like many in Paterson, Jackie's father came from Dutch ancestry, the original family name being Dohrmann. Her mother's maiden name McLean suggests her Scottish and English roots. While her father did not have any siblings, Fran more than made up for that by having six sisters and a brother, many of them living in close proximity to the Dormans. Being an only child, Jackie quickly learned the value of family and in those early years developed a very close relationship with her many cousins, ties that continue to this day. Prominently displayed in her family room today are pictures of the cousins, numerous photos capturing cherished moments from the many "Cousins Trips" they have all taken together over the years.
When Jackie was nine, the family moved to the nearby town of Little Falls, a quintessential American town that thrived during the boom years following World War II. Jackie recalls that living in Great Falls "was easy. It was fun. People liked each other. It was small town America…I played [trumpet] in the band in high school and if we won a [home] football game, then the band would march from the high school to the center of town, about a mile away…and then we’d turn around and come back. Now, mind you, that was the main street of the town. It was closed to traffic while we had this parade. That wouldn’t happen today….It was a special time, a different time. We rode our bikes everywhere, we played in the street, we walked to school….It was before the Vietnam War, before that divided everything. The war changed everything.”
Jackie’s father Chuck had a secure job with the power company and over time worked his way up to Safety Supervisor. Although many women of that era stayed home, Jackie’s mother did not. Fran began to work outside the home, first in a jewelry store and then in a laboratory that manufactured the hormone therapy drug Premarin. Jackie attributes this second income for later paying her college tuition and preventing her from acquiring student loan debt. It was a time, she says, when families could do that and live within their means, unlike today.
As for politics, both of Jackie’s parents identified as Democrats and so she naturally thought of herself as a Democrat. In fact, politics was a big influence in Jackie's life from an early age. For one, while her dad's whole family were all Democrats, all of her mother's family were Republicans. Fortunately, the family did not consider their political differences an issue. Secondly, when Jackie was 12, her father ran for the school board. He lost, but city leaders in Little Falls encouraged him to run for city commissioner as a Republican since that was the majority party. He decided to be true to himself and ran as a Democrat. The first time he lost but ran again and won, ultimately serving a few terms as city commissioner and even becoming the mayor for a while. Then in 1972 he ran for freeholder, a Dutch term used in New Jersey for county commissioner.
Jackie vividly remembers campaigning with her father and mother. It was a family act, which contrasted with the other candidates who typically did not bring their wives and children to events. The Dormans were all in it together: “That got him a lot of votes….We would go together to events and, since he was a golfer, we’d pass out [divot repair tools] with ‘Dorman Fore Freeholder’ written on them to give to the men...and emery boards with ‘Dorman’ printed on them for the women….And so you’d go to these events and pass out this stuff that had your name on it and you’d say hi to everybody…It was fun! It was good!.... My dad was a good politician and knew how to handle people. He was a little bit of an entertainer, a little bit of a ham” and that helped him win elections.
High School Years
Going to high school in Little Falls in the early 1960s was the ultimate playground for Jackie. She was active in virtually all facets of school life - academics, band, and sports - but athletics was her first love. As she wistfully remarks, "I was a really good athlete but was at least 10 years ahead of the time that I really could have done something in women's athletics." After all, Title IX, the law which initiated the age of parity in athletics between girls and boys, was not passed until 1972. Until then, there was virtually no money for women's athletics and therefore very few teams.
What Passaic Valley High did offer was intramural competition between girls' teams during the year. The girls were divided into the two school colors: the Green team and the White team. Throughout the school year they participated in such activities as floor exercises, basketball, and relays. It all culminated into a two-night "Girls Show" competition which was open to the public. Jackie was named the Green Team Chief and she led her team to victory on the first night's competion. Being the Chief was a great experience which taught her how to be an organizer and leader.
(This is a photo gallery. Click to make larger. Then click on the forward arrow to view the 5 pictures and read the descriptions.)
Senior picture...a spy?
Elaine Ashton was an exchange student from England who came to live with the Dormans for her senior school year and more or less has been a family member ever since. Throughout all these years, she and Jackie have remained friends. With Elaine now living in Toronto, they still manage to stay in touch, having dinner together monthly via Zoom. As Jackie notes with a grin, "I think the exchange program was a success."
Jackie learned golf by playing with her dad during her early years and she also took golf lessons. In fact, as a teenager she boldly decided to ask if she could play golf on the boys’ team since there wasn’t a girls’ team. As usual, Jackie tried to push the envelope: “I went all the way to the athletic director and said, ‘You know, I take golf lessons and I’d like to play on the boy’s golf team…It’s not a contact sport and I’d like to play.’” And without seeming to even consider her request he snapped back, ‘Oh, no…You’re pretty good and the boys would feel bad if they lost to you!...Are you crazy?’” Jackie had learned yet another lesson that day about life not being fair to women athletes.
One pivotal moment apart from athletics came to Jackie in her sophomore year. It was a snow day from high school back on January 20, 1961. She sat home alone while her parents were at work and turned on the TV to watch John F. Kennedy – the youngest president ever elected -- deliver his inaugural address at the first ever televised inauguration. She remembers he stood there on this cold day with no hat on his full head of hair. She was taken in by the image and especially by Kennedy’s words. This was the speech famous for many eloquent passages but perhaps most notably for “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” Since her father had run for city commissioner that election cycle, his name appeared on the ballot along with JFK’s and that made JFK’s inauguration even more special to 15-year-old Jackie. It was a transformative moment:
“It was the first time I had seen an inauguration and it was like WOW! You know? And here was this young man standing there with the wind blowing in his hair…really feeling like he’s speaking to you…and saying ‘Let’s pass the torch’ and I’m 15 and I’m thinking ‘I can catch that!’ It was very important to me.” Starting then, politics and public service guided much of her life – just as it did many of her contemporaries.
Excerpts from JFK's inaugural speech
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An interesting look at JFK Inauguration Day 1961
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College and Beyond in New Jersey
When it came time for college, Jackie went to Rutgers University, but back then women were treated differently and the women students had a college apart from the main campus called Douglass College. Due to her love of sports, she majored in Physical Education with a minor in English. She played field hockey, basketball, softball, and tennis while at Rutgers but is quick to point out that her experience was a different world from what women’s college athletics is today. Today, noting the irony, she points out with a laugh that the Rutger’s women’s softball team – just the softball team -- has a budget of $3 million dollars! "We didn't even get uniforms. We wore our own white shirt and black shorts." What a difference 55 years makes!
After earning a BS degree in 1967, she went to the University of Massachusetts for graduate school as a teaching assistant in Physical Education. Upon completing her master’s degree in 1968, she was fortunate to become a professor and coach at Middlebury College. Although in many ways teaching and coaching at Middlebury was the perfect job for her, these were turbulent times in the country. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated, and the nation was torn apart by Vietnam. Jackie left the ivory-towered walls of Middlebury College to engage in public service by working at an elementary school in a ghetto back in Paterson. It was a move she felt called to make.
VIrtually all the students at Elementary School #28 were lower-income African Americans who came from disadvantaged homes. The school facilities were poor and somewhat dangerous, but Jackie obtained great satisfaction interacting with the students. She felt she was making a difference and, in fact, developed a physical activity that actually improved their reading abilities. It was unique to her school and her students tested highest in the city for reading in spite of their disadvantages.
In 1972 she was asked to join the physical education faculty at the nearby County College of Morris. This college had just recently been built and so it was an offer she felt she could not refuse. From 1972-1980 she taught physical education and coached women's field hockey, basketball, and softball. Also in 1972 Jackie married Joe Williams. While the marriage did not work out, she excelled in coaching and during her years at CCM her teams all went to the regional championships.
Life in Stuart
In 1980 Jackie decided to move to Florida. It was a big move, but it was one she was eager to make, for she was getting involved in the golf business. Jackie joined the teaching arm of the LPGA, the Ladies Professional Golf Association, and got a job as assistant golf professional at Martin County Golf Club (now called Sailfish Sands) in Stuart and eventually became head pro.
Jackie had the distinction of being one of four women head golf professionals in the nation, once again pushing the envelope on women's role in sports. In fact, in 1989 Jackie was honored with the LPGA Teaching Division's Southeastern "Professional of the Year" award.
Although she loved teaching golf, Jackie was made to change course once again. In 1994 the golf course administration changed and Jackie lost her job. Through the help of a friend, she began to work as a freelance writer, working for such publications as The Stuart News, HomeTown News, and the Jupiter Island News.
Jackie tells the most amazing story about her first assignment as a sports reporter for the Stuart News: She was to go to the Cobblestone Golf Club in Palm City for a charity golf tournament. Lee Trevino, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Larry Nelson, and Mike Ditka were the celebrities that were to play. Her main assignment was to talk to Mike Ditka, who had recently been fired as Chicago Bears coach, to see if he was planning to take the Miami Dolphins job. Jackie adds that “the night before the tournament my sports editor calls me and says ‘Look, I didn’t want you to go and be surprised so I’m gonna tell you that they have a special guest coming…and that special guest is Joe Namath.’ So my first day as a reporter I interviewed Joe Namath, Lee Trevino, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Larry Nelson, Mike Ditka….This is my first day! I said, ‘How can this get any better?!’
She goes on to relate her first encounter with Joe Namath that day, too. She had been watching him at the putting green before the tournament began and he was missing his puts to the left. So Jackie stood behind him and bravely spoke up: “You know, if you were to keep your shoulders square and just let your arms swing through, the ball will go in the hole.”
“What do you mean?” he replied.
“I said, ‘Keep your shoulders square and just let your arms swing through.”
“ ‘OK.’ Ball went in the hole. And he did it again. So he pointed to me and said ‘YOU…ride with me!’ And so I got to play the first nine holes with Joe Namath. He was very, very nice. Nice to me, nice to everybody there.”
Jackie got her scoop (Ditka told her he wasn't taking the job) and she had a great time with the famous athletes who were all so gracious and friendly. It was a day definitely to remember!
For over 7 years Jackie wrote a weekly sports column for the Stuart News and she also covered various sporting events throughout the region. While on assignment, she met the editor of the Jupiter Island News, a monthly publication for the Residents Association of Jupiter Island. They were in need of a writer and Jackie was offered the job. Twenty-seven years later, she continues to attend the town’s city council meetings and write articles about Jupiter Island.
One perk to this work is that she gets to attend the speaker’s program that Jupiter Island has for its residents. In this small, intimate setting arranged for the exclusive residents of Jupiter Island, she has heard talks from such well-known figures as Mikhail Gorbachev, Sandra Day O’Conner, Dick Cheney, Paul Krugman, Doris Kearns Goodwin (Jackie’s favorite nonfiction writer) and many others. What a gig!
During these years of freelancing, Jackie started a bigger project. She decided to write a book that showcased the women of the LPGA Hall of Fame, focusing on their struggles to succeed in a male-dominated sport. The book profiled 16 golfers including Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Patty Berg, Kathy Whitworth, and Nancy Lopez.
While doing her research for the book, the World Golf Hall of Fame happened to be having its grand opening in St. Augustine. Jackie wrangled a press pass and used the opportunity to interview and photograph the LPGA women. Jackie recalls takiing her father with her for this event:
"It was just the coolest thing….My father went with me, and he was like a little kid because everybody [all the famous professional golfers, both male and female] was being inducted. And so you’d walk along and there would be Tom Watson, and there was Jack Nicklaus, and there was this guy and that guy…I was so happy I could bring him to that….It was unbelievable. And then later we went to a cocktail party where all the people were there and so he got to actually meet these people, you know?” It is a treasured memory for Jackie and no doubt one her father fondly remembered for the rest of his life.
“Playing from the Rough: The Women of the LPGA Hall of Fame” was published in 2000 and was well received. Even today, it can still be found on Amazon and eBay. When asked why she’s not living on Jupiter Island from all the income from the book, she exclaims with her hearty laugh, “Why? I didn’t make any money!” Nonetheless, it was a great experience personally and it added to the library of LPGA books that others can read today, be inspired by, and learn from as they consider the world of women in sports.
Film Producer and Scriptwriter
Though her freelance writing career was satisfying in many respects, Jackie knew she needed a regular job with a guaranteed salary and health insurance coverage. As she had done several times previously, in 2001 Jackie reinvented herself once again – this time by securing a job as writer/producer for MCTV, the official station for Martin County government. She and her co-workers began to show the County Commission meetings, which is still being done today, and they also created lots of special programming that featured various county departments or happenings in the county.
An animal lover herself, one of her most beloved projects was the “Pets on Parade” show, which is still being shown today. Acting as host, Jackie would spotlight various pets from the Humane Society. She is proud to note that, even to this day, they have a 100% adoption rate for the animals that appeared on the show. When pried, the ever-modest Jackie reveals that from 2005 – 2008 “Pets on Parade” won the National Association of Counties production awards.
During her tenure at MCTV, Jackie wrote and produced two award-winning full length films. “Book to the Future” was a fun project made to celebrate Martin County Library’s 50th anniversary in 2007. It was a take-off on “Back to the Future” and, instead of a Delorean, the actors - who were all county employees - "flew" around in a ’57 Chevy from the Elliot Museum and through their adventures they tell the story of the founding of the library.
One of the films she is most proud of is “Indian Riverside Park: Window to the Past.” This is a one-hour documentary which through video, pictures, and interviews weaves a fascinating tale on the origins and development of historically significant Indian Riverside Park in Jensen Beach. Anyone living on the Treasure Coast would learn a great deal about our area’s history by viewing this film. The film won the national “Golden Quill” award for scriptwriting from the Florida Historical Society. The National Association of Counties also honored this film in 2007 with scriptwriting and production awards.
By 2008, Jackie felt the need to assume her most personal role – the role of caretaker for her parents – and so she retired from MCTV to devote herself to those responsibilities while also continuing to write for the Jupiter Island News and to continue her involvement with Martin Democrats. Jackie's father passed in 2020 at age 99, and she now lives with her quick-witted 98-year-old mother Fran and their own Humane Society family member Daisy.
Political and Social Advocate
Jackie’s work with Martin County Democrats has been an important part of her life since the late 1990s when she sought out Martin Democrats and began to attend DEC meetings. There she met Bob and Louise Cunha, Dave Dew, and a handful of other Democrats. Then when the Democratic Club got formed in 2003 and Louise became its President, Jackie began to attend those meetings as well. When Louise decided to step down in 2011, Louise convinced Jackie to run for President. As Jackie says with a laugh, “Louise gets me into everything.” Jackie served two terms – from February 2011 to February 2015 and then again during those early Trump years February 2017 to February 2019.
Jackie says that “Louise Cunha had done such a good job (as President) that I just had to build on what she had started.” One of Jackie’s initiatives was to start having guest speakers at almost every meeting. She also notes that during her time as President club membership increased significantly, though she acknowledges that Obama and especially Trump had a lot to do with the increase. She believed then and still today that the Club needs to become more active locally, especially in helping to find and encourage good Democratic candidates to run for office. It isn’t easy in red Martin, but it’s something we must do.
Jackie also served on the Nominating Committee for two years and is now actively involved in the Sunshine Committee, which focuses on bringing in new membership to the Democratic Club. She’s excited about this committee and its possibilities for adding to our Martin County Democratic base.
When asked if she considers herself a progressive or a centrist Democrat, Jackie responds with “Can you be a progressive centrist? I think that is what I am.” She says she often can see both sides to an issue and this draws her toward the center. This is also reflective in her years of service to Martin County Democrats. As someone explained who has long been a Democratic Club member, “Jackie is a great person and was a very competent leader of the Democratic Club. She was able to deal with guests the club hosted with great charm and professionalism.” Jackie has demonstrated time and again with Martin Democrats an awareness of compromise, of working together to accomplish a goal, of getting something done, of stepping up and serving - traits that are especially needed in today's world.
Jackie is truly a Renaissance woman who has used her multiple talents in countless ways over the years to benefit all she touched through her roles as teacher, communicator, leader, and team player. Thank you, Jackie, for your decades of service. We Martin County Democrats are fortunate to call you our latest Martin County Democrat All Star!
If you 'd like to send Jackie a note after reading all about her, you can email her here.