Betty Williams (Nobel laureate)

Betty Williams (Nobel laureate)
Betty Williams

Betty Williams, 1976 Nobel Peace Prize
Born 22 May 1943 (1943-05-22) (age 68)
Employer Nova Southeastern University
Known for Community of Peace People
Religion Roman Catholic
Spouse Ralph Williams, James Perkins
Awards Nobel Prize, 1976

Betty Williams (born 22 May 1943) in the city of Belfast in Northern Ireland, is a co-recipient with Mairead Corrigan of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for her work as a cofounder of Community of Peace People, an organisation dedicated to promoting a peaceful resolution to The Troubles in Northern Ireland. She heads the Global Children's Foundation and is the President of the World Centre of Compassion for Children International. She is also the Chair of Institute for Asian Democracy in Washington D.C. and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Nova Southeastern University. In 2006, Williams was one of the founders of the Nobel Women's Initiative along with sister Nobel Peace Laureates Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Jody Williams and Rigoberta Menchu Tum. Six women representing North America and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa decided to bring together their experiences in a united effort for peace with justice and equality. It is the goal of the Nobel Women's Initiative to help strengthen work being done in support of women's rights around the world.

Betty Williams, Peace People, 1976. Troubled Images Exhibition, Linen Hall Library, Belfast, August 2010


Peace petition

Betty Williams was drawn into the public arena after witnessing the death of three children on 10 August 1976, when they were hit by a car whose driver, an IRA fugitive named Danny Lennon, was fatally shot by British authorities.[1] Williams was driving in her car with one of her children when she heard gunfire. She turned the corner to her street, saw the three Maguire children and rushed to help. Their mother, Anne Maguire, who was with them, eventually committed suicide in 1980 after a failed attempt to start a new life in New Zealand.

Within two days of the tragic event, Williams had obtained 6,000 signatures on a petition for peace and gained media attention. Together with Mairead Corrigan, Anne Maguire's sister, she co-founded the Women for Peace which later, with co-founder Ciaran McKeown became The Community for Peace People.

The two organized a peace march to the graves of the children, which was attended by 10,000 Protestant and Catholic women — the peaceful march was disrupted by members of the Irish Republican Army, who accused them of being "dupes of the British".[1] The following week, Williams and Corrigan again led a march — this time with 35,000 participants.

On 13 August, the day of the Maguire childrens' funeral, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan were to appear with journalist Ciaran McKeown on a current affairs television programme. Although they arrived too late, they met McKeown, who joined the two women in founding the Peace People. McKeown wrote the original Declaration and organized the rally supporting it.[2]

Declaration of the Peace People

First Declaration Of The Peace People

  • We have a simple message to the world from this movement for Peace.
  • We want to live and love and build a just and peaceful society.
  • We want for our children, as we want for ourselves, our lives at home, at work, and at play to be lives of joy and Peace.
  • We recognize that to build such a society demands dedication, hard work, and courage.
  • We recognize that there are many problems in our society which are a source of conflict and violence.
  • We recognize that every bullet fired and every exploding bomb make that work more difficult.
  • We reject the use of the bomb and the bullet and all the techniques of violence.
  • We dedicate ourselves to working with our neighbours, near and far, day in and day out, to build that peaceful society in which the tragedies we have known are a bad memory and a continuing warning.[3]


Nobel prize

Subsequent to that dramatic display of support for peace, Williams and Corrigan became the joint recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 (the prize for 1976).

In her acceptance speech, Williams said,

"That first week will always be remembered of course for something else besides the birth of the Peace People. For those most closely involved, the most powerful memory of that week was the death of a young republican and the deaths of three children struck by the dead man's car. A deep sense of frustration at the mindless stupidity of the continuing violence was already evident before the tragic events of that sunny afternoon of August 10, 1976. But the deaths of those four young people in one terrible moment of violence caused that frustration to explode, and create the possibility of a real peace movement...As far as we are concerned, every single death in the last eight years, and every death in every war that was ever fought represents life needlessly wasted, a mother's labour spurned".[4]

Although Williams had initially indicated she would donate her half of the prize money to the cause of supporting the Peace People, upon being asked to do so she declined. "I've changed my mind," she told co-laureate Mairead Maguire and Peace People colleague Ciaran McKeown. "I have a wee project of my own which I want to back with my half," she explained.[5]

Personal life

At the time she received the Nobel Prize, she was working as a receptionist and raising the two children she had with Ralph Williams. After they divorced, she married James Perkins in 1982, and lived with him in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida in the United States. She toured and lectured extensively, taking the Nobel Peace Prize with her, so others could see it.

Her son Paul became a professional footballer playing for Newport County, Sheffield United, Hartlepool United, Stockport County, West Bromwich Albion and Rochdale. He made one appearance for Northern Ireland.

In 1992, she was appointed to the Texas Commission for Children and Youth by then Texas Governor, Ann Richards.

She spent time as a visiting professor at Sam Houston State University, in Huntsville, Texas. In 2004, she returned to Belfast, Northern Ireland.


Since winning the Nobel Peace Prize Williams has received the People's Peace Prize of Norway in 1976 , the Schweitzer Medallion for Courage, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award, the Eleanor Roosevelt Award in 1984, and the Frank Foundation Child Care International Oliver Award. In 1995 she was awarded the Rotary Club International "Paul Harris Fellowship: and the Together for Peace Building Award.

Comments on George W. Bush

On July 24, 2006, while delivering a speech at the Earth Dialogue forums, Williams told school children at the Brisbane City Hall, "I have a very hard time with this word 'non-violence,' because I don't believe that I am non-violent." Decrying the deaths of innocent children in wartime, she went on to say,

"Right now, I would love to kill George Bush. I don't know how I ever got a Nobel Peace Prize, because when I see children die, the anger in me is just beyond belief. It's our duty as human beings, whatever age we are, to become the protectors of human life."[6]

In a keynote speech at the International Women's Peace Conference on July 11, 2007, Ms. Williams told a crowd of about 1,000: "Right now, I could kill George Bush," she said at the Adam's Mark Hotel and Conference Center in Dallas, Texas. "No, I don't mean that. How could you nonviolently kill somebody? I would love to be able to do that."[7] Williams later apologized for the remarks.

According to the Dallas Morning News,[8] “Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren in Washington declined to comment, but a Dallas agent said Ms. Williams had not been questioned and there were no plans to do so.” However, the people who emailed the conference in anger about her threats — they were the ones investigated: “Conference organizers reported that a Dallas police detective was working with hotel security to review about 40 hateful e-mails received in response to Ms. Williams’ speech.”

Talks and Guest Lectures

From September 17–20, 2007, Williams taught an intensive course at Soka University of America entitled "Peace Is Action, Not Words." On September 18, Mrs. Williams presented a lecture to the university community, entitled "Peace in the World Is Everybody's Business." On September 20, she gave a lecture open to 2,232 members of the general public, including 1,100 high school sophomores.

Speaking at the University of Bradford before an audience of 200 in March 2011, Williams warned that young Muslim women on campus were vulnerable to attacks from angry family members, while the university does little to help protect them. "If you had someone on this campus these young women could go to say, 'I am frightened' – if you are not doing that here, you are dehumanising them by not helping these young women, don't you think?"[9]

In Pop Culture

Betty Williams was honoured/featured in the music video of Nickelback's hit song If Everyone Cared.

See also

  • List of female Nobel laureates
  • Earth Dialogues
  • The Peace People
  • The Troubles


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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