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Monday, March 6, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Tribute to church music director will feature four top organists

Seattle Times staff reporter

Steven Williams spread his lifelong love of liturgy and religious music for 12 years at Plymouth Congregational Church in Seattle before he left in 2003 to care for his dying partner.

Mr. Williams remained on leave for the three years after his partner's death until he, too, died of AIDS on Feb. 24. He was 46. A memorial later this month will pay tribute to Mr. Williams' love of traditional church music by featuring four of Seattle's great organists.

As a young but demanding and scholarly music director at Plymouth Congregational Church, Mr. Williams became known as a stickler for liturgical accuracy and a talented performance organist.

"He was a very demanding choral director," said his friend Jon Palmason, the tenor soloist at Plymouth. "He expected attendance. He expected punctuality. He expected people to learn their music."

In his early 30s when he took the job, the well-read Mr. Williams placed great importance on integrating the music into the rest of the service.

Mr. Williams studied the organ at the Presbyterian church in his hometown of Camp Hill, Penn., said his mother, Ginny Williams. He was musically inclined, she said, and "he had big hands."

He went on to study music at Syracuse University and earn his master's degree in sacred music from Boston University. He traveled extensively, his mother said, and spent a semester in Switzerland during college to study the organ.

During the late 1990s, he and his partner, Kevin Clarke, traveled to Europe. They went on cruises. They went to Turkey. They spent time at their cabin near Port Angeles.

Mr. Williams spoke frankly about his disease and was as serious about getting his affairs in order for his death as he had been for his life, Palmason said.

"He took care of Kevin right to the very last moment," Ginny Williams said. "That was one of the things that he said: 'I took care of Kevin and now there's no one to take care of me.' "

But hospice helped, she said. His friends rallied around. The family made a point to get together often.

Besides his mother and his father, Dick Williams, Mr. Williams is survived by his brothers, Richard and David; his sister, Sarah; and five nephews.

Mr. Williams never lost his wry sense of humor — his sister recently described it as "peevish."

When the staff at the Bailey-Boushay House, where he spent his last days, told him how little money he would have to have to qualify for Medicare, he joked, "Well, it looks like I need to go shopping," Palmason remembered.

"He was still wisecracking at us, which was great," Ginny Williams said. "It made us feel like he was still OK."

A service for Mr. Williams and Mr. Clarke will be held at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, 1245 10th Ave. E., at 1 p.m. March 25. Four organists are scheduled to play starting at 12:30 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be given in Mr. Williams' name to the Bailey-Boushay House, 2720 E. Madison, Seattle, WA 98112, or to Lifelong AIDS Alliance, 1002 E. Seneca St., Seattle, WA 98122.

Mr. Williams donated his estate to Plymouth Congregational Church, where it will be used to help Seattle's homeless and mentally ill.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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