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Wisconsin’s longest-serving female legislator remembered as a “beacon of light”

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Hundreds of people attended the funeral of former State Representative Annette "Polly" Williams on Tuesday, November 18th.

Williams was Wisconsin's longest-serving female legislator. She was remembered at her funeral as a "Minister of Justice," a "beacon of light" and a "mother of the poor."

Williams was born in 1937 in Mississippi. She moved to Milwaukee and spent 30 years representing the interests of the 10th Assembly District in Madison. Williams was elected to the Legislature in 1980. Nine years later, she created and pushed the passage of the "school choice" program. That new law put her at odds with her fellow Democrats and some in Milwaukee's black community. Her critics received a howling reproach from the pulpit.

"Polly Williams never, never quit being a representative of black people.  Amid all of y'all who say different, you don't know Polly Williams, and so you need to shut up. You need to shut up.  I'm just saying sit down and shut up," said Howard Fuller, former Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent.

Williams' funeral was attended by politicians of all stripes. Conservative Supreme Court Justice David Prosser and Republican Senator Alberta Darling were seated among a number of Democratic lawmakers.

Williams was eulogized by Congressman Gwen Moore. She called Williams a pioneer to whom she owed her career in politics.

"I can tell you, I stand on the shoulders of giants, and I respected her so very, very much," said Moore.

Former State Senator Spencer Coggs served with Williams for decades and said unlike some lawmakers who pay more attention to donors and lobbyists, Williams' most important constituents were poor and disadvantaged children.

"They think of her as mother Polly -- and she wanted to make sure that every child got a decent education," said Coggs.

A mother figure to many, Williams had a son and three daughters of her own. They gave her the great joy of her life -- grandchildren. Williams' grandson, Michael Burns, says he watched Williams work in Madison -- and will always remember a lesson she taught him.

"Help people who can't help themselves," said Burns.

Williams was 77 years old when she passed away on November 9th.

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