Lisa Franchesca Williams Smith, 53, Florida business consultant

Smith
Smith
Posted: March 13, 2014

LISA FRANCHESCA Williams Smith just wouldn't be denied.

Even in hospice care, in her final days, she was working to help small African-American businesses in West Palm Beach, Fla., a cause to which she had devoted so much of her energies in recent years.

"She had been given six months to live," said her mother, Karen Warrington. "When that happens you are given a choice, whether to live those six months or just wait to die. She chose to live."

Lisa Smith, a multitalented woman who could sing and dance and play the piano and drums, a teacher, business consultant and community activist, died of cancer Thursday at age 53. She lived in West Palm Beach.

Her mother, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and onetime press secretary to Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr., traveled to Florida to try to sort out her daughter's records.

She was astounded at how many businesses, churches and civic groups Lisa was working with. They ranged from a man with a barbecue truck to a Baptist church that needed funds to build a playground.

"There were literally hundreds of business plans she was dealing with," her mother said. "A lot of African-Americans have the ideas and the drive, but don't know how to do the paperwork. She made a difference in a lot of lives."

The church that wanted to build a playground is Hilltop Baptist, her church, and officials said they will name their playground after Lisa.

Among Lisa's many activities in Florida was owning a community newspaper, the Palm Beach Executive News. She was intent on starting a charter school that would combine academic education with the arts.

"She felt that young African-American people need the opportunity to experience cultural arts to understand who they are, to help them with their self-esteem," Karen Warrington said.

In addition to her work with businesses and churches, Lisa taught dance and gymnastics, played the piano and sang. She played drums with Haitian and Jamaican musical groups in the Palm Beach area until recently.

At her death, she was working on a doctorate in education at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

"She was very driven, very determined to do whatever she wanted to do," said her brother Stephen Williams. "I'm reminded of the Army slogan: 'We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.' That was Lisa.

"She had so much energy. If she wanted to do something, she would do it. Nobody was going to stop her."

Stephen said his sister was so active, "We forgot that she was sick. We were so sure she would beat this thing, we forgot about it."

Lisa was born in Los Angeles when her mother and father, Howard Williams, lived there for a time, then grew up in the Yorktown section of North Philadelphia. She attended Masterman High School and graduated from Northeast High, where she excelled on the gymnastics team.

She attended Temple University for a time and worked in Temple's office, then held other administrative jobs before moving to Florida about 20 years ago. She earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Northwood University in West Palm Beach.

Lisa followed in her mother's footsteps in the world of dance. Her mother was the lead dancer with the Arthur Hall Afro-American Dance Ensemble and she would take little Lisa to the studio. This exposure led her to study dance herself.

She was only 4 feet 10 inches tall and, therefore, would never be a star dancer, but she became a member of Omo Ife, the junior company of the dance ensemble, and won a scholarship to the famed Alvin Ailey School in New York City.

In Florida, Lisa was program manager for the Business Loan Fund of the Palm Beaches, and last year was elected to serve on the advisory board of the Palm Beach County Community Action Program.

Besides her parents and brother, she is survived by two other brothers, Nicholas and Ngai, and her grandmother, Gladys Williams.

Services: A memorial service will be arranged later.

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