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Phoenix ceremony to name transit center near Metrocenter after Councilwoman Thelda Williams

Phoenix leaders will gather Friday to unveil a new transit center named after a former City Council member who died Tuesday.

For more than 20 years, Thelda Williams represented District 1, where the former Metrocenter Mall is located and where a transit center in her name will open next year as part of the light rail extension. After Williams retired in 2021, Councilwoman Ann O’Brien replaced her.

"She is a titan in Phoenix." — Councilwoman Ann O'Brien

“She is a titan in Phoenix,” O’Brien said. “She was a strong advocate and voice not just for our district but the entire city.”

Williams advocated for the redevelopment of Metrocenter Mall, the expansion of light rail and Sky Harbor Airport. 

“She was so well-versed in so many areas of the city,” Councilwoman Debra Stark said. “She knew about water, she knew about land use, she knew about transportation, especially transit and aviation.”

On Friday, city leaders will honor Williams with an unveiling ceremony near the former Metrocenter Mall. The Thelda Williams Transit Center is part of the light rail extension scheduled to open in early 2024. In May 2023, the council approved naming the center, which is under the elevated light rail station.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Councilwoman Betty Guardado said Williams was always clear about where she stood, “You know, there were many times that she and I didn’t see eye to eye but when we did see eye to eye, we were able to move mountains together.”

"You know, there were many times that she and I didn’t see eye to eye, but when we did see eye to eye, we were able to move mountains together." — Councilwoman Betty Guardado

In 2020, during the pandemic, Guardado and Williams pressed HMS Host, a multinational company that operates dozens of businesses at Sky Harbor, to provide documentation about furloughed workers before the council would vote on more rent relief.

In 2021, Williams shared her memories of moving to Phoenix 50 years earlier from Omaha. At the time, her husband had taken a job with JCPenney at Park Central Mall. They bought a house near 35th Avenue and Dunlap Road, considered far north back then.

Councilwoman Laura Pastor said Williams didn’t hide her feelings.

"She was always very kind-hearted and stern and direct with me when she celebrated me, and when she didn't like certain things that I was doing," said Pastor.

Councilman Jim Waring recalled Williams' humor, “I can’t tell you how many times I had meetings with her where I would just literally come out laughing and in tears.”

Williams colleagues chose her to serve as interim mayor three times during her career. She died after a brief fight with cancer. Williams was 82.

She is survived by her son, Murry, and daughter, Cyndi, along with three grandsons: Matt Smith, and Ben and John Williams. Thelda Williams is preceded in death by her husband, Mel, a former Phoenix police officer, and her daughter, Chris.

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As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.