Naval Academy community mourns Annapolis florist Teresa Williams
By BROOKS DUBOSE | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: January 23, 2021
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Teresa Williams wanted to live in Annapolis so bad she couldn't wait to close on a house or sign a lease. So she started living on a boat — dubbed Impulsive.
Childhood memories of spending weekends on the Chesapeake Bay with her family triggered a decades-long desire to live in the waterside town. She first bought the Gateway Florist and ran the storied flower shop from the boat. A house would come later.
The unorthodox move perfectly encapsulated her mom, daughter Amanda Williams said. Her decisions weren't impulsive because they lacked justification. She just wanted to do something, and she went and did it.
The sentiment remained true when it helped someone other than herself. Such as the time she helped conceive a fundraiser to assist in repairs of the Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse. Or when she donated flowers to hospital patients at Anne Arundel Medical Center who had no visitors.
"She was compassionate to a fault," her long-time partner Geoff MacDonald said. "She put herself second and reached out no matter how or why to support people who needed it."
That's how she spent the four-plus years she lived in Annapolis, volunteering her time to help people and causes she cared about. Her efforts reverberated throughout every corner of the city she loved. No one asked her to do those things. She just did them.
Williams, whose generosity, advocacy and charity made her a cherished part of the fabric of Annapolis, died suddenly on Monday after falling into a coma following complications from lung cancer. She was 57.
Teresa Rush Williams was born March 24, 1963, at Bon Secours Hospital in Baltimore and raised in Ilchester, an unincorporated community in Howard County. She was one of four children. She leaves behind her daughter, partner MacDonald, son Nicholas, a newborn grandson Jackson and three siblings, Diane, Earl and David. She was preceded in death by her husband Scott Williams and parents Margaret and Earl Rush.
"She'd be this ball of energy but would be the first to give you a hug, or call you and tell you she loves you and she cares about you," said Michael Hughes, a friend and business associate. "It's rare in your life that you're blessed with wonderful friends."
After Williams graduated from Howard High School in 1981, she started a real estate title company, Mid-Atlantic Title Consultants. She was soon known as a major figure in the field, MacDonald said. She married Scott Williams in 1996; Amanda was born a year later.
Williams later quit her title company when her husband was diagnosed with colon cancer. He died 13 months later in 2013.
"She was a spitfire," said Williams, 23, who worked for her mom at Gateway Florist on Bay Ridge Road. "I loved the crap out of her."
After buying the boat and making it her temporary home, Williams opened a second flower shop on King George Street in the shadow of the Naval Academy; she named it Academy Flowers.
Williams, who was raised in a military family — her father and brother were Marines — quickly made inroads at the service academy and was soon providing flower arrangements for a host of Naval Academy events, including decorating the Superintendent's House for holidays, garden parties at the Buchanan House, home Navy football games and many others.
She even coaxed her partner away from his Army allegiance during football season, said MacDonald, a West Point graduate.
"She melted me," he said. "I told her I will say 'Go Navy' and 'Go Army' and I won't say 'Beat Navy,' except that one game."
When she heard about the family sponsor program for midshipmen, she thought "that would be cool," and volunteered to host two mids, her daughter said. That's where Myles Fells and Cameron Kinley met Williams for the first time in the fall of 2017.
"She treated me like one of her own sons," said Kinley, now a senior. "That love she showed me. That is something I will take forward with me."
Williams's impact was not lost on Naval Academy leaders, including Superintendent Vice Ad. Sean Buck. He shared his and his wife Joanne's condolences following Williams's death.
"She was a steadfast friend and supporter of the Naval Academy for many years," Buck said in a statement. "Her floral arrangements frequently brightened Buchanan House and the Yard for Naval Academy visitors during special events, and her own home provided a welcome retreat for the midshipmen she sponsored. Her loss will be profoundly felt within the Naval Academy and Annapolis communities."
Before they shared season tickets at Navy games, Williams and MacDonald met through their children who were cheerleaders and on the dance team together at Glenelg High School. Williams took MacDonald's daughter under her wing. When her husband got sick, there was a natural support system between the two families already in place, he said.
Those kinds of connections were common among Annapolis community members and often transcended work, said Hughes, a member of the Annapolis Maritime Museum Board where Williams regularly volunteered.
Hughes saw first-hand Williams's compassion when Hughes' son, the Annapolis musician, Sean Hetrick, died in November. Williams was one of the first people who called him.
"It was all the little things that added up to be so much," he said. "When Sean passed, just checking in — not too much but enough, at just the right time."
The pandemic had been hard on Williams, her partner said. But as always, it wasn't about her well-being; it was more about making sure her employees were taken care of, MacDonald said.
Still, the relentless devastation of the pandemic finally won out. A for sale sign went up in the window of Academy Flowers in November. "COVID-19 killed us," Williams told The Capital at the time. She intended to buy the property and reopen it, another impulsive decision with a purpose.
"Timing is everything," she said.
She didn't get the chance. Williams was diagnosed with lung cancer a week before her death. She dipped into a coma after suffering complications from chemotherapy treatments and never woke up.
Williams had big plans for the new year. She wanted to keep providing the one-of-a-kind floral arrangements that other flower services actively avoided. Each arrangement was unique. She took pride in giving her customers something they couldn't get anywhere else.
Alderman DaJuan Gay, D-Ward 6, plans to honor Williams at a City Council meeting on Monday.
The Ward 6 alderman, then a student at Annapolis High School, had just started working at the Gateway Florist weeks prior to Williams becoming the owner. The pair grew close as they learned the ropes of the flower business together, Gay said. Later, when he would return home from college, Williams would let him work a shift here and there to make some extra money.
"She was very, very, very generous," he said. "She would help people at their lowest moments, and I think that that is what I'll remember the most."
The family will be holding a memorial service for Williams when the weather gets warmer, her daughter said.
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