You know how it is when you get the feeling you need to give somebody a call? It hit me about a week ago. “Call Artie,” the voice in my head commanded. It had been way too long since we talked. I knew I should pick up the phone but I didn’t. And now, I can’t.
I learned that my old friend and former colleague Artie Williams III was dead by reading Facebook. It had been posted by the former Exec Producer at KABC, Jim Hattendorf. His note said that there wasn’t much information available, just that Artie died of an unknown cause - an unknown medical emergency - while diving near Catalina Island. Artie, loved to dive. I remember him telling me about the water in Belize. I remember him saying it was the clearest water a diver could hope for.
I first met Artie Williams in Baltimore. It was in late 1979. I had just gone to work for WMAR-TV. So had Artie. He got started by attending an art school. From there, he transitioned into photography and tv news. He had come in from Richmond at about the same time I came in from Pittsburgh. The World Series was on. The Orioles were up against the Pirates. For the next three years, we worked together, partied together and became friends. I helped Artie study for his black belt in Tae Kwon Do while on our way to assignments. He eventually became an instructor, but I never once saw him raise a hand against another human being in anger. I did though, see him stop a fight. We were on our way to an assignment when Artie spotted two kids fighting in an alley. It was a big kid on top of a little kid. Artie pulled into the Alley, drove up to the fight, rolled down the window and said, “Hey! If you want to fight somebody, how about fighting me?” The big kid looked up at Artie, got off the little kid, and the fight ended.
Later, Artie moved west for a job shooting video for KABC-TV. A few months later, I followed in his footsteps, taking a reporting job at the same station. Others moved west as well. Michael Jones and Rawn Hairston. All four of us left WMAR for KABC. A producer, Bob Compton, left WMAR and came to Los Angeles to work for KNBC. It led to jokes about the “Baltimore Mafia.”
Artie Williams III, was a good man. He brought more to the party than he took away. In the words of a mutual friend, “Artie, was the sweetest guy you can imagine.” A strong but gentle presence with a positive attitude toward life, that was Artie.
KABC reports that today, Sunday, would have been Artie’s 60th birthday. He is survived by his mother and three sisters. He had plans for a trip back to Richmond to visit his family on Wednesday. My condolences to his family. I am so sorry I failed to make that call.
The following statement was released by the Los Angeles Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
The Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists mourns the loss of veteran ABC 7 cameraman Artie Williams III, who died over the weekend while diving off of Catalina Island. Williams was described by his colleagues as a “real prince of a guy” with a huge heart. He was known for providing a helping hand to other photographers, reporters and interns. His was always a friendly face to see out in the field. “The journalism community in Los Angeles has lost a talented person who was a friend and mentor to many,” SPJ/LA President Alice Walton said . “SPJ/LA extends its condolences to Artie’s ABC7 colleagues and his family. He will be sorely missed.”
The Black Journalists Association of Southern California posted the following statement-
Los Angeles, CA – The Black Journalists Association of Southern California and NABJ joins the Los Angeles and national journalism community in mourning the untimely death of ABC7 Eyewitness News photojournalist Artie Williams III.
Williams was a beloved colleague and respected competitor. He also mentored countless aspiring broadcasters during his 30-plus year career at KABC. Artie, as he was widely known, quietly gave back to the community in a host of ways including his recent presentation to teen scholars at LA’s Urban Media Foundation.
Williams greeted everyone with kindness and compassion. He was often the man behind the camera and behind the wheel as admirers noted “there goes that news van again!”.
“Artie shot many of the press events that I was involved with. I was always struck by his passion and dedication to his craft,” says Earl Ofari Hutchinson, President, The Black Journalists Association of Southern California.
“He was a true consummate professional. And equally important, he was a tremendous role model for African-Americans in broadcast news.”
We express our sincere condolences to his family. But we are secure in the knowledge that the powerful legacy that Artie left, namely his passion for his craft and professionalism, will continue to be a solid model of achievement and success for future minority photojournalists to emulate.
A service for Artie Williams will be held at 11am on Tuesday, August 28th, at Grace Baptist Church, 22833 Copper Hill Drive in Santa Clarita.
Rawn Hairston, Oprah and Artie, way back when.
(photo courtesy of Rawn Hairston)