• Susan Shifrin

Remembering John K. Williams (Jack)




“I go with my wife to art museums a lot because she loves it. This is the first time – in my own head – that I'm thinking seriously about what's going on here, and actually verbalizing it, because I've never done that... So, for the little while we've seen things today at the museum, I've enjoyed it a lot more.” – Jack W.


Jack and Peggy Williams became beloved members of the ARTZ Philadelphia community as soon as they stepped foot into their very first ARTZ program together in May of 2014. It just so happened that was also the very first program ARTZ Philadelphia offered. Jack and Peggy gave ARTZ its start in Philadelphia, and they contributed in so many ways to making ARTZ programs all that they could be and all that they would become.


In the years that followed, Jack and Peggy were regulars at our ARTZ @ Woodmere programs and at others besides. Peggy introduced a number of new participants to our programs, participants who also became integral to the supportive, creative community that she and Jack were helping to build.


Jack threw himself into each and every program with an equal mix of enthusiasm, seriousness, insight and humor. During that first program in May 2014, I was convinced that he must have had a longstanding background in an arts-related field because his insights as we viewed and discussed several works of art together were so incisive and spot-on. It was only when Jack himself announced to the group during a break that he had never before had any interest in looking at art, he had only gone along with Peggy to museums to make her happy, that I realized something profound was happening in these small-group sessions in Woodmere's galleries. During that session and all of the others that followed with Jack and Peggy in attendance, we all saw enacted again and again the singular truth that human beings do not stop contributing, do not stop imagining, do not stop connecting just because of a diagnosis.


Jack – who as I learned at the end of that first program from Peggy – had been a “marketing guy” with little to no interest in art, became the inspiration and standard-bearer for the stories of rediscovery, opportunity, and creative transformation that embody ARTZ Philadelphia at its best. Peggy and Jack and Beth Ann and Dick Force – two acquaintances from Bethlehem whom the Williams introduced to ARTZ, and with whom they developed a close friendship attending ARTZ Philadelphia’s programs together and then going out to lunch afterwards – were featured in a Philadelphia Inquirer article about their experiences. That article brought more people to the program, with Jack and Peggy again sharing their own stories to encourage others to imagine a life with purpose and joy regardless of a dementia diagnosis.


At the end of a year in which we have all seen and experienced the devastation of prolonged isolation as never before, Peggy and Jack’s brave struggle to continue living meaningfully in the face of his dementia even as they were separated from each other for months on end by the pandemic -- even as the pandemic took its ultimate toll – reminds us that early on, they found for themselves and helped to bring others to a place of purpose… even with a dementia diagnosis.

See the August 2014 Inquirer article about Jack and Peggy and Beth Ann and Dick here: https://www.inquirer.com/philly/health/20140804_Living_with_Alzheimer_s_with_the_help_of_art.html

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Photos: Raymond Holman, Jr. and Linda Ruth Paskell / Peek-A-View Photography