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A proper farewell

Fellow police, family, friends and acquaintances filled Ashland High School’s gymnasium Saturday morning to honor Officer Malcus Williams, 51, remembered for his generous spirit and compassionate approach to policing.

Williams collapsed while responding to a domestic call on March 2 and died at a Medford hospital two hours later. Officials have not released a cause of death out of privacy concerns for the family.

The celebration of life for Williams was preceded by a motorcade of more than 100 public safety vehicles from around the state that passed underneath an American flag hung from the crossed ladders of two fire trucks. Supporters lined the streets, some saluting the motorcade as it passed.

People from within the local law enforcement community and far beyond honored the sports-loving family man who served in the Ashland Police Department for 21 years. The father of three daughters also fashioned custom-made speakers, coached youth sports and acted as DJ for the middle school graduation, among other events.

Ashland police Sgt. Bobby Smith, Williams’ close friend, reminisced how Williams would laugh when people got his name wrong, calling him “Malcolm” or “Marcus.” He described him as a “gentle giant” with a gentle heart.

“They may not have remembered his name, but they remembered him,” Smith said.

Smith said they’d become “like brothers,” bonding over activities off-duty that included coaching middle school football and, in the ‘90s, operating a pirate radio station from a Tudor apartment.

He dedicated to Williams the “If you threw a party” stanza of Andrew Gold’s 1978 hit, “Thank You for Being a Friend.”

Ashland police Chief Tighe O’Meara called Williams “a rare police officer,” in that O’Meara has yet to hear anyone say a negative word about him. O’Meara said Williams approached everyone with respect and neutrality.

“That builds legitimacy and it builds trust,” O’Meara said.

O’Meara presented to Williams’ wife, Ona, her husband’s framed badge and a Chief’s Challenge coin. He told the crowd that the badge has two stars near the bottom — recognizing Victor Knott and Samuel Prescott, both of whom died in the line of duty in 1931.

“Going forward we’ll have a third star,” O’Meara said.

The Rev. Sean Weeks, who officiated the ceremony and knew Williams while working as a chaplain the past five years, described a connection between Williams’ life as an officer and private side devoted to his family — making his daughters’ ball games, plays and performances a priority.

“How he loved his family was how he approached the community,” Weeks said.

To some young people, Williams would take on a fatherly role, according to Weeks. To elders, he’d take the role of the son.

Friend Joe Pedrojetti, who first knew Williams in the early 1990s as an employee of his furniture store, described the time Williams was called to a children’s “sit-in” at the Ashland library in 2007, protesting a closure. Williams escorted the kids out, but only after reading them Mo Willems’ storybook “Leonardo the Terrible Monster.” Pedrojetti saw similarities in the book’s character, who gives up trying to be scary after he “just wasn’t,” and instead becomes a good friend.

“That’s just how Malcus was,” Pedrojetti said.

Supporters who lined the streets during the procession shared stories of how Williams touched their lives. Chuck Butler, for example, recalled the time he fell while getting ready to leave for an early morning trip to Hawaii with his wife, Linda.

Linda said she was “going way too fast” to the emergency room when Williams pulled them over. Instead of a ticket, Williams turned on his emergency lights. They ultimately made their flight with “two minutes to spare.”

Another man, disheveled and carrying three bags, called Williams a “hometown hero” despite police contact with him.

“He arrested me one time and we were friends,” the man said, saying he understood what Williams had to do.

Teresa Lehman, Jordan Tilley and McKenna Read said Williams coached them from T-ball through middle school softball. As a coach, they described him as “mellow” and “goofy” and positive. Lehman’s mother, Christina Lehman, said she’s known the family for 20 years, and Williams was “an especially positive person” and a “great role model for this community.”

Former Ashland High School football coach and athletic director Jim Nagel said Williams was a strong police presence that could be approachable to young people.

“With kids, policemen are not always the good guys,” Nagel said. “Kids flocked to him.”

Ashland High School graduate David Laughlin, who now lives in Eagle Point, said Williams was his wedding DJ.

“He was just good at everything he did,” Laughlin said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.


Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch Bagpipes are played during a celebration of life and memorial service for Malcus Williams at Ashland High School on Saturday.
Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch A Honor Guard proceeds down the aisle during the memorial service for Malcus Williams.