Denmark’s second largest island is Funen (rhymes with “tune”). On the southwest coast of Funen is the small city of Faarborg (FAR-bore). Fay Williams lived in Faarborg for 43 years until her death on June 13, 2014, just eight days after her birthday. She was 78 years old.
On June 16, 2014 my mother and I flew to Denmark to represent the family at Fay’s funeral. Fay had been stricken with ovarian cancer, but she actually died of a brain hemorrhage in the hospital in Svendborg, about 17 miles east of her home.
The funeral was held on Saturday, June 21 in the Holy Ghost Lutheran Church in Faarborg. Formerly a Catholic church, (Fay converted to Catholicism many years ago) the building is a beautiful structure more than 500 years old. There is a lovely cemetery on its border, and that is where Fay’s cremated remains were placed after our return to Detroit on June 23.
The eulogy was delivered by a female priest who Fay had known well. While approximately 90 percent of her remarks where in Danish, we were told afterwards by English-speaking attendees that the priest spoke eloquently. They said she accurately captured the impact that Fay had on the lives of people she met from all over the world. More than 100 people attended the funeral, representing seven countries besides Denmark: Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Japan, Korea and the United States.
I had the honor of being a pallbearer. On the previous occasions that I performed this role, I was part of all-male groups. Not so in Denmark: Half of the six pallbearers at Fay’s funeral were women.
Another difference in Fay’s funeral service was that there was no printed obituary, which I assume is the custom in Denmark.
For that reason, I asked Fay’s long-time roommate, Titta Kjaersgaard-Larsen, to provide details about Fay’s life so that her biography could be written for the family.
Fay Williams was born June 5, 1936 in Detroit. She was the fourth child of Willie and Elizabeth Williams,E_Wms_obit after Mable, Harriet and Julius.
Fay graduated from Northern High School in Detroit, and then attended Michigan State University. In 1957 she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Work from MSU, and a Masters in Social Work in 1959.
In the early 1960s Fay moved to Milwaukee, where she worked as a social worker. For a time her mother lived with her.
It was in Milwaukee that Fay began her life-long passion: traveling. Her first overseas trip was to London in 1963. Two years later she went to Italy, where she visited a foster child whom she was financially supporting.
From 1965-66, Fay attended the International People’s College in Helsingor, Denmark. According to IPC’s web site, “The main idea of IPC is to bring as many different cultures together and to encourage dialogue, understanding, interest and mutual respect in a world, where tolerance is a necessity and diversity is an adventure.” Presumably that is where Fay became pen pals with students from Scotland, Denmark, Belgium, Spain and Portugal.
IPS also is where Fay met Tita Kjaersgaard-Larsen, who said that Fay was one of the most popular students in their class. Fay’s room was often the center of activity.
Fay moved to San Francisco in 1966, where she was employed by the Catholic Social Services welfare bureau. She worked with young girls who wanted to give up their babies for adoption, and with parents looking to adopt or take in foster children.
At Fay’s invitation, Titta came to America in 1967. They shared an apartment in San Francisco through July 1971, living for a time at 6026 California St. Titta worked as a nursery school teacher. During those years the two women traveled around the western U.S., including a trip to visit Fay’s sister, Harriet and her family in Tacoma, WA. Fay’s mother also visited them in San Francisco, with her grand-daughter, Joyce Kenyon, in tow.
Titta returned to Denmark in 1969 to visit her ailing father. She discovered Faaborg, and liked the town so much that she decided that if she ever moved back to her homeland, that was her city of choice.
As her father’s health problems continued, Titta decided to move back to Denmark in 1971. She invited Fay, who was interested in studying the Danish health system. She received a grant to do so, and the two women headed east in a 1967 Ford Mustang that Fay had purchased new for $3,054. It had 8 cylinders and was Acapulco Blue.
Their trip across country included stops at the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, Tijuana, Mexico, Washington, D.C., Milwaukee and Detroit. In New York they loaded the car and all their belongings on a boat for the eight-day trip to Denmark.
Fay was the first black person to live in Faarborg. Not surprisingly, this resulted in stares, finger-pointing and gossip. Children touched her skin and hair – she wore a large Afro for years – but nothing occurred that she considered racist.
The ’67 Mustang – probably one of the few cars of its kind in Denmark – gave Fay celebrity status. It was large compared to European automobiles, and wherever the two women went, strangers smiled and waved. Fay eventually traded in the Mustang for a smaller European car for two reasons: The Ford was a gas guzzler, and replacement parts from Belgium were expensive.
While Fay worked on her research paper on the Danish health care system, Titta got a job as the director of new nursery school, the Ringgaard School. Fay helped select furniture and other equipment and volunteered to work with the children. She could not be hired full-time, however, because of Danish work rules and her lack of fluency in the Danish language.
Eventually the state sent an official to investigate Fay’s qualifications to teach at the school. The woman interviewed Fay, Titta, members of the board of directors of the school, parents and children. She was declared qualified and Fay went on to teach at the school for 24 years. Long before she retired in 1996 at age 60, Fay became fluent in Danish.
From 1972 through 2013, Fay and Titta traveled every year – except 1981 – to a country outside Denmark. The list of destinations is as diverse as it is long. It is almost easier to name countries where they did not visit. In addition to most of the United States (including Hawaii, but not Alaska), they went to multiple countries in South America, Central America, most of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Far East, and Australia. Fay’s final trip was to Paris in 2013. She had first gone there in 1992.
Fay went to more places around the world than most people dream about. She had experiences that were uniquely hers. She made friends across the globe. She was kind, soft-spoken, gentle, giving, and tolerant. She liked to laugh. She believed in angels. She loved music. She had a life-long fondness for Dentyne chewing gum. She collected books, music albums and CDs, writing pens, watches, hats and wallets. The world was her home, and she loved us all.
Not long before her passing, Fay told those closest to her that she had no regrets about the path she had chosen; that she had done what she set out to do and that her life had been good.