Patricia Williams will be remembered by her colleagues and sources as a journalist with a passion for the construction industry, a relationship builder and an ambassador for the Daily Commercial News.
The longtime DCN staff writer passed away suddenly on Feb. 6. She was 74.
Williams began working for the publication in 1968. After a 46-year career, she retired in January 2014 and transitioned to a freelance career. Most recently, she freelanced for the DCN and became one of the paper’s most trusted copy editors. Over the years she wrote countless articles on the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) sectors. As a staffer and a freelancer, she attended industry events regularly, representing the DCN. She was well known in the industry and many considered her to be a colleague and friend.
“In the beginning there was Pat,” said Alex Carrick, chief economist, ConstructConnect, who met Williams early in her career and worked with her for many years.
“There was a first wave of women reporters in the 70s and she was part of that. She really liked what she did. She loved the construction industry and writing about it. She really, really enjoyed the contacts she made in the industry.”
Carrick said she was bright, funny, had a great laugh, loved to travel and enjoyed the theatre.
“One of the real distinguishing things about Patricia, when somebody from corporate would come to the office, she would always ask the first question,” recalled Carrick with a laugh. “It got to be kind of a joke.”
Rob Bradford, of the Toronto and Area Road Builders Association, met Williams when he started at the DCN in 1977. Although he left a few years later, the two remained friends and he eventually became one of her sources. He described Williams as the “older, seasoned reporter with a bigger-than-life persona that made her the focus of the newsroom.”
“Where most journalists merely tolerate the social aspects of the job, Patricia thrived on them,” Bradford said. “When she attended an engineering conference or a meeting of architects, she was not only a reporter watching from the sidelines, Patricia became an integral part of the event. It seemed she knew everyone in the construction industry, and she knew how to make people comfortable talking to her. Where most reporters had working sources, Patricia built relationships with her industry contacts. They trusted her with their thoughts and information and she never, ever betrayed that trust.”
He added she “succeeded as a journalist chronicling a testosterone-fuelled industry at a time when woman were just starting to think about taking on such challenges. But her gender was irrelevant to her and she was oblivious to the industry’s misogyny. She was a vocal feminist, but she pursued her feminism through her professionalism and accomplishments with her typewriter rather than a soapbox.”
As a freelancer for the Journal of Commerce and the DCN, Peter Caulfield interacted with Williams for about a year. Williams would edit Caulfield’s work, but their relationship went beyond collegial, he said.
“We emailed back and forth, not just about professional stuff,” said Caulfield. “For whatever reason I felt a kinship with Patricia.”
The last time he heard from her was two days before she died.
“She didn’t get back to me which was unusual because she always got back to me quickly the same way I got back to her,” recalled Caulfield. “It was a real shock. I filed a story this afternoon. It will be the first story since Patricia died that it will not have gone through her tender love and care and I feel that. It’s that feeling of absence, of missing someone’s presence.”
The industry was shocked and saddened to hear about Williams’ untimely passing and all agree she will be missed.
“Patricia was my introduction to the Daily Commercial News and in a way to the construction industry,” said Ian Cunningham, president of the Council of Ontario Construction Associations (COCA), recalling she called him after he had been appointed president of COCA.
“She interviewed me many times on industry issues and our paths crossed at various construction industry events over the years. She seemed to have a genuine passion for our industry, had a strong network of industry contacts, was very knowledgeable, always professional and a wonderful ambassador for the DCN. Forty-six years working for the DCN is amazing, unheard of today. What a loyal trooper.”
Geza Banfai, counsel, McMillan LLP, said Williams had what he calls a “finely tuned bullshit meter.”
“I’m certain it came in handy often as she chronicled the vagaries of the construction industry and its characters,” said Banfai.
“We should remember the legacy she left to the colleagues with whom she worked, to the journalistic community and to the industry she covered. She was humble and self-effacing, but not one of the many thousands of people she interviewed in the course of her long career could come away from the experience without a keen appreciation for her empathy, her sharp intellect, and the exceptional skill she brought as a questioner and as a listener. She was the consummate journalist, and a hell of a writer too.”
Martha George, president of the Grand Valley Construction Association, remembers meeting Williams in 2000 when she interviewed her for an article in the DCN.
“I often shared time with her at CCA (Canadian Construction Association) conferences,” said George. “She was smart, funny and interesting. She was humbled when recognized by CCA for her work on covering the conferences over the years. She was curious about everything and it appeared that she loved life. She was a good reporter. Honest, factual and kind.”
Clive Thurston, president of the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) said Williams will be missed.
“She was one of the people I was hoping to see at my retirement party,” said Thurston, who will be stepping down this year.
“She was a great lady, a tremendous journalist. She was one of the first people I met when I took the job. She became a confidant and friend. It was always great to talk to her. She was always a great supporter of the industry — there was no question. It’s a tremendous loss, we at the OGCA felt the loss. We always enjoyed her company.”
Angela Wilson, founding president of the Canadian Association of Women in Construction (CAWIC), said Williams was a strong supporter of the group from its early days when it was the Toronto chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction.
“She was an absolute advocate for CAWIC,” said Wilson. “This is our 15th year with CAWIC and she was there from the beginning. She came to all the events. She promoted us. She was such a great lady and I have such fond memories.”