John A. Williams, 85, Musician and Clown

Oct. 24, 1932 - April 1, 2018

John Allan Williams, who was known to friends as Banjo Jack, died on April 1 at the Delray Medical Center in Delray Beach, Fla. He was 85 and had learned he had thyroid cancer in November.

In addition to being a social worker who had at the start of his career worked as director of Stepping Stones Mental Health Services and the Nassau County Department of Drug and Alcohol Treatment, Mr. Williams was a trained clown. He graduated from Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Clown College and put his training to use as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army and at East Hampton and Southampton parades.

“Spreading joy was his true nature; enhancing the joy in others was his hobby,” his family said. “A daily high-spirited delivery of music with his banjo, the ukulele, and guitar was enhanced by his professional training in clowning. Banjo Jack made everyone feel understood and happy,” they added.

John Allan Williams was born on Oct. 24, 1932, in Wilton, Conn., the only child of the former Elizabeth Kemp and Chester S. Williams. He graduated from the George School in Newtown, Pa., and received a master’s degree in social work at Adelphi University. He  served in the Army in Tennessee for two years in the 1950s. 

Mr. Williams and Una Joyce Williams were married in January 1959. They settled in Huntington Station, where he worked for the Nassau Department of Drug and Alcohol Treatment. He and his wife had three children, who were brought up there. Their marriage ended in divorce.

In the early 2000s, Mr. Williams bought a house in Springs where he spent summers with his partner, Pearl Bernsohn. Winters were spent in Delray Beach. Mr. Williams went to the East Hampton senior citizens center on Springs-Fireplace Road every day possible and was active in the Crossroads A.A. group here in the last 10 years.

He was also a golfer, sailor, and marathon runner, his family said, and enjoyed adventure, musical cinema, photo sharing, public service, and social justice causes.

 Ms. Bernsohn survives, as do Mr. Williams’s children, Wendy Louise Morris of Nunda, N.Y., and Christopher Ellis Williams and Sharon Elizabeth Collins, both of Huntington Station. Also surviving are five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

The family celebrated his life in Delray Beach on Sunday. Mr. Williams had donated his body to the Anatomy Gift Registry.