James “Jim” Williams
James Robert Williams died on Wednesday, April 28, 2021, at a hospital outside of New Delhi, India. The cause was complications of Covid-19. He was 35. Among his many notable qualities, he was known for an easy wit, an ability to connect with others, a talent for writing, a fierce commitment to gay rights, and devotion to his family and many friends.
Jim, as he was known to those closest to him, was born on June 30, 1985, in Florence, Alabama. His father was Paul Kenneth Williams, a Vietnam veteran and IRS agent. His mother was Kay Carter Williams, a schoolteacher. The family, which also included Jim’s older brother, John Charles Williams, lived in St. Florian, Alabama. Jim attended Mars Hill Bible School throughout his time in Alabama.
The loss of Jim’s mother to a car accident in 1992 profoundly affected him and other family members. In 1995, Jim’s father died by suicide. He and his brother moved that year to East Amherst, New York, outside Buffalo, where they gained a new family in their paternal aunt, Sharon Alexander, her husband, Bill, and cousins Christie, Jessica, and Doug. Growing up, they affectionately knew him as “Jimbird.”
Jim attended Country Parkway Elementary and Transit Middle School in Williamsville, New York. No fan of athletics, he nonetheless made valiant efforts to learn the game of hockey when he arrived North. He was a 2004 graduate of the Nichols School in Buffalo, where he began to excel in the fields of writing and theater. Always curious about his surroundings, he loved exploring Buffalo and learning about its history.
Jim found a larger arena for exploration when he chose to attend Columbia University in New York City. While majoring in English there, he edited Inside New York, a guidebook to the city. He also sang a cappella for Notes and Keys, wrote and edited for the Columbia Blue and White, and co-wrote the 2008 Varsity Show, an annual musical revue.
Upon graduation in 2008, he worked in New York as a personal assistant to the writer Daphne Merkin. He also lived for a time in Buenos Aires and in Los Angeles. In 2017, while traveling in India, he met Ayush Thakur, an Indian citizen, whose passion for gay rights and hatred for intolerance was as deep as his. Jim moved to New Delhi in 2018 and became engaged to Ayush, the love of his life, in 2019. The couple planned to live in the United States and had been navigating immigration hurdles when the coronavirus pandemic struck in early 2020.
At his death, Jim was engaged in efforts to change the ways in which homosexuality is portrayed in Indian media, as he firmly believed that positive portrayal of gays and lesbians on American television contributed to increased acceptance of those groups in recent decades. When the Indian Supreme Court abolished the country’s ban on gay sex in 2018, an NPR correspondent interviewed Jim and Ayush about the momentous occasion as they celebrated in front of the court. Jim was also in the process of investigating his parents’ past in Alabama and learning about the culture that shaped them—and him.
“Life changes in the instant.” So wrote Joan Didion, one of Jim’s many loves and passions. Others included the Muppets, the color orange, Lady Gaga, candy of all types, and the feeling of driving a convertible on a perfect day in Los Angeles. All were taken from him by a vicious, uncontrollable virus that affected so many living in India in April 2021. The time from Jim’s initial symptoms to death was a mere week.
Jim’s illness was compounded by a severe shortage of hospital space and medical supplies in India. Through the efforts of his large friend network—for which his family is enormously grateful—he was able to obtain a hospital bed and access to oxygen. After two days in which it seemed that he would recover, the virus took him at 3:17 p.m. local time on April 28.
Jim’s family is comforted to know that he died with his fiancé, Ayush, by his side. They simply cannot believe that Jim is gone, that they will never again enjoy his easy laughter and hugs, or his probing conversation at the dinner table, or his hilarious emails and letters, or his epic wedding toasts, or the charm he placed on everyone lucky enough to meet him. He survived a childhood marked by tremendous loss. Thanks to the Alexander family—who loved and celebrated the Williams brothers as their own children and siblings—he grew up to thrive. Jim was a shining light, full of talent and promise and vision. May that light continue to shine through his memory.
Survivors include Ayush Thakur, of New Delhi, India; John Charles Williams and his wife, Eliza Borné, of Little Rock, Arkansas; Bill and Sharon Alexander, of Chattanooga, Tennessee; Christie Alexander and her husband, Shaun Littman, of New York City; Jessica Alexander of Lafayette, Louisiana; Douglas Alexander and his wife, Angie Turner, of Oakland, California; four beloved nieces and nephews; many close friends; and a bevy of people whom he touched, however briefly, with his humor and kindness. He is predeceased by his parents, Paul and Kay.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial donations be made to UNICEF’s Covid-19 Indian Relief Effort or to GLAAD.
There will be a graveside service at 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 30, at Greenview Memorial Gardens in Florence, Alabama. Friends and family are welcome at the service if vaccinated or properly masked.
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