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Posted: April 29, 2009 2:19 p.m.

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Called to the council

Photo by Jennifer T. Long/

Passionate: Hawnethia Williams has served on the Covington City Council for three years and some months.

Hawnethia Williams was born in Harristown to Nathaniel "Professor" Sr. and Ruby Mae Mitchell. Her father was principal of the Washington Street School for many years and many of her other relatives were or are educators.

She said during her time growing up in Newton County, the Harristown community was very close-knit and truly exemplified the saying "it takes a village to raise a child."

"That's the roots I'm very much proud of," Williams said.

Her father had attended Clark College, now Clark Atlanta University, and wanted her to attend as well.

"There was no democracy in homes back in those days," Williams laughed. "It was a dictatorship."

Having received a scholarship to Clark, she decided to study history and psychology. She then earned her Master of Education and later a specialist degree from Georgia State University.

For much of her teaching career, she taught social studies in Concord but moved back to Covington in the early '90s to teach at Newton High School, from which she is retired.

"No matter where I go, I love coming home," Williams smiled.

During her 33 years of teaching social studies, government courses were always her favorite to instruct. Williams has long been an avid observer of the political process in the United States.

When Barack Obama was elected last fall, Williams felt compelled to attend his inauguration in Washington, D.C.

"No matter how cold it was, I had to be there," Williams said.

She said it was a remarkable experience to see so many of different ages, races and economic backgrounds gather together for common cause.

For many years prior to Williams' decision to run for city council, people surrounding her had encouraged her to run for a local office.

"Long before I came on board as a councilmember, I was an advocate for various needs," Williams said. "I'm like a watchdog - If I see things not happening, I'm quick to speak up."

This outspokenness for the good of others earned Williams her nickname - The Mayor of Harristown.

After a particularly difficult few years of losing her husband and brother to illnesses, she felt the need to run for office pressing on her. She accepted an offer to visit her sister in New Jersey to meditate about whether to begin a campaign.

"The Lord told me, ‘if you don't do this, then don't you complain about anything else,'" Williams said.

She described herself as having "tunnel vision" on the way to city hall to turn in her qualifying fees because she had become so resolved to run.

Her youngest sister passed away from an extended illness the day after Williams was sworn into office, making the memory of the event a somewhat bittersweet one for her, but she remained dedicated to her goal of improving the quality of life for those living in the town she so loves.

Now in her third year serving as the Post 2 West councilmember, Williams said her personal passion is to ensure decent, affordable housing for not only her constituents but also everyone in Newton County.

"People feel good about themselves if they have a nice place to live," Williams said.

She said she is particularly excited about the Neighborhood Stabilization Grant that Covington recently received to renovate homes and property in blighted areas of the city. Williams and other members of the council have visited other communities to see possible ways the funds could benefit Covington.

Williams has a strong conviction that the council has a responsibility to enhance the lives of the city's residents through services and progress.

This year will be Williams' third to judge the Georgia Municipal Association's sixth grade essay contest that asks students what they would do if they were mayor of their hometown. She is also a member of the county's Zoning Board of Appeals and an active member of Grace United Methodist Church.

As a former member of the Newton County Historical Preservation Commission, Williams said she has witnessed a transformation of Newton County.

"It's grown a great deal from the time I was a child," Williams said, "but I still wouldn't want to be anywhere else."

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