Joseph Watson Williams
Local physician remembered as a pioneer, caring
by W. Winston Skinner
Joseph Watson Williams cared.
Words like “caring” and “compassion” pop up frequently as friends remember the local physician who died on Jan. 4. Williams, however, was also a pioneer — taking steps that would make becoming a physician easier for following generations of African-Americans.
Williams was the first black doctor to have admitting privileges at Coweta General Hospital and Newnan Hospital, according to Regina Brewster, a registered nurse who worked for Williams for several years.
Coweta General was built as a county-owned hospital on Hospital Road. It later went through several private owners before being purchased by Newnan Hospital.
Newnan Hospital began almost a century ago as a private hospital that later became a not-for-profit facility. Newnan Hospital purchased its competitor and then was purchased by Piedmont.
The old Coweta General building on Hospital Road has been proposed as the site of a planned behavioral hospital, and the original Newnan Hospital campus on Jackson Street is being retrofitted for use by the University of West Georgia.
“He probably didn’t know he was making any type of history” when he overcame obstacles to admit patients in Newnan, according to Evette Beasley, Williams’ office manager and an employee since 1996. “He was just doing what he needed to do to serve this area.”
Williams did later realize the hurdles he had overcome as a black physician. He later told a younger colleague: “We knocked down the door, and you younger ones just rolled through it.”
Williams was born Dec. 27, 1944, in Atlanta. He was involved in Boy Scouts and Jack and Jill as a boy and had a strong intellect. “He went to college at 16 at Morehouse,” Brewster said.
Williams earned a bachelor of science degree from Morehouse in 1965 and his doctor of medicine degree four years later from Meharry Medical College. From 1969-1973, he did his residency training at Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital. He then received board certification as a diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine — one of the first African-Americans from Georgia to hold that designation.
Williams served in the Army Medical Corps until 1975, attaining the rank of major.
In 1979, he went into practice with Dr. Benjamin E. Woods. They opened Atlanta Internal Medicine — expanding their practice to Newnan the following year, where they became the first black doctors with admitting privileges at the local hospitals.
Williams practiced medicine for 38 years. He served as medical director for several nursing homes and was proud to serve as Morehouse College’s medical director and as team physician for the Maroon Tiger for 11 years.
Williams received the Lange Medical Publication Award for Outstanding Achievement as a Medical Student in 1969, the Georgia State Medical Association Award for Meritorious Service in 1980 and the Atlanta Medical Association Award for Meritorious Service in 1995. In 2004, he was the Morehouse Alumnus of the Year.
He was, however, much more concerned about his patients than about any honors.
Beasley said Williams knew his patients personally — and would remember their names even if he had not seen them for a long time.
“He always remembered them from years ago — even their families,” Beasley recalled.
“He was great — an easy man for work for,” Beasley said. “He entrusted you to take the initiative to get the job done.”
Williams’ approach to practicing medicine — and life in general — was “very involved,” Beasley said. She said she had a baby while working for Williams and he referred to her daughter as “the Atlanta Internal Medicine baby.” Williams remembered the girl on birthdays and whenever she experienced any honor or accomplishment.
Williams’ funeral was held Jan. 11 at Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta, where he was baptized as a child. He was buried at Westview Cemetery. Survivors include his wife, Carmen; daughter, Joron Williams Murry; and son, Dr. Kevin B. Williams.
“He was awesome,” Brewster said. “He was compassionate and caring.”
Williams “was a great man,” Beasley reflected. “He will be — greatly — missed.”