Cover photo for Jerry Lee Williams's Obituary
1940 Jerry 2022

Jerry Lee Williams

September 24, 1940 — December 12, 2022

Always curious about where each road might lead, Jerry Williams ended his final field trip on Monday, December 12, 2022. Parkinson's Disease made this a rough one, yet he never lost his infectious smile, sense of humor, nor gratitude for the increasing help he was forced to accept. He died peacefully, surrounded by his family and much love. The family are most grateful to the staff at A Love for Life in Albuquerque and The Retreat in Rio Rancho for taking him into their caring embrace on his final flight.

East 6th Street in Frederick, Maryland is where Jerry's journey began on September 24, 1940, and where his heart returned repeatedly as it searched for home in his final days. He played in the marching band and graduated from Frederick High school in 1958 and was able to attend his 60th Reunion there in 2018 with many lifelong friends.

At Bridgewater College in Virginia his passionate wanderlust took focus under teacher, mentor, and lifelong friend, Hugh Akerman. Hugh brought the love of history and geography into his life, and especially the importance of being in the place you are studying. Jerry joined the Peace Corps in 1964 and taught at Zomba Catholic Secondary School in Malawi for three years. While there, he started one of the first youth marching bands in Africa with the help of his Frederick High School friends who supplied the instruments and uniforms.

It was in Malawi that Jerry met Shirley Snyder, his faithful partner, fellow back road traveler through life and wife of 55 years. They married in 1967, and after Jerry completed an M.A. at Indiana University in 1971, they moved back to Africa. They taught for three years at Chassa Secondary School in the rural Eastern Province of Zambia, next to the Luangwa Game Reserve. Jerry's students there helped him with his research for future graduate work.

He received a PhD degree in Geography from the University of Oregon in 1977 after three years in Eugene. With a 2-year-old daughter and a newborn son, they moved to Albuquerque and Jerry began a 30-year teaching career at the University of New Mexico, retiring in 2007. His passion for experiencing and sharing the geology, biology and humanity of this planet translated into a life of field trips with family, students, friends and neighbors. It culminated in the Southwest Institute, a travel-education program which he created, directed, and loved for 20 years.

Along the way Jerry indulged his passion for sports by playing rugby and coaching youth basketball and soccer both in Africa and Albuquerque. From the beginning, he was always a gardener. He loved taking a patch of earth and enhancing it with rocks and flowers. Perhaps the ultimate gift of this geographer and gardener was to help us all see just how beautiful and precious is this Earth we live upon. In honor of this, we will celebrate his life on Earth Day this year, April 22, at 3:00 p.m. at the First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque. In lieu of flowers please consider a donation to Elizabeth Bowers Zambia Education Fund (

Jerry was preceded in death by his mother, Virginia Shepley Williams; his father, Nathaniel M. Williams; his brother, Nat; and his sister, Judy Drum. He is survived by his wife, Shirley; daughter, Amy (Matt Harding); son, Brian (Rowena Baca); grandson, James; granddaughter, Lila; his brother, Larry (Cathy); and nieces and nephews.

To send flowers to the family in memory of Jerry Lee Williams, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Celebration of Life

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Starts at 3:00 pm (Mountain time)

First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque (Carlisle Blvd)

3701 Carlisle Boulevard Northeast, Albuquerque, NM 87110

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