Obituary: Michael D. Williams Nov. 29, 2021


Michael D. Williams suddenly passed away on November 29, 2021, in Los Alamos, New Mexico. He was 82. Mike’s rare qualities in rare combination triumphed over the monumental challenges to which he was dedicated – protecting the environment — beginning way back, before clean air was considered necessary, let alone possible. Ever improving the air, Mike was an effective ally of all creatures that see or breathe.

He engineered original contributions in the field of computer simulations of visual effects of smoke plumes and won two Distinguished Performance Awards at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for his work in air dispersion modeling. Naysayers were no match for his innovation and smarts, applied to identify, predict, and display most aspects of air pollution. But even that rarity wasn’t his defining feature: it was his unflappable trust in truth and tireless work for proof, which prevailed against every sly scheme deployed to clip his wings.

In the 1970s, Mike gave high-stakes technical testimony throughout the Mountain West states, and even farther, on air quality issues. Eventually at one hearing in Farmington, NM, the attorney for a large power plant nearby had prepared ahead by extracting stacks of brief quotes from Mike’s years of reports and testimonies. Before the hearing began, the lawyer offered to show Mike how he would prove Mike was a liar unless Mike withdrew the testimony he intended to give. Without deigning to hear the offer, Mike flashed his slim smile and said, “You’re going to prove I’m a liar? Let’s go.”

The attorney presumed his trap was enough to thwart anyone: to hide from Mike when and where he was being quoted. In short, omit the context. Mike would respond, “What you quote there sounds like the hearing in Montana two years ago, when the issue was this, before we knew about X,Y, and Z.” Questions and answers went on this same way for over four hours. Mike’s credibility with the hearing board rose by the hour.

And so it was by such sleuth and proof over decades that Mike, with New Mexico Citizens for Clean Air & Water, Inc. co-founded with John & Nancy Bartlit, gained protection of our vast turquoise skies, for the long distance. Mike will be remembered as a generous, kind man, who changed the air by his constant intellect, trusty teamwork, and serene focus on solutions.

As a lad raised in Covina, California, Mike enjoyed the great outdoors – fishing, hunting, working on an egg ranch, and Dodgers baseball. After Mt. San Antonio College and UCLA (PhD, nuclear engineering), he came to New Mexico to work for the John Muir Institute of Environmental Studies and Los Alamos National Laboratory. A master NM fly fisherman, Mike mostly met his goal to catch a fish monthly. Mike was a great observer of wild birds in the air he helped clean.

Mary Lou, wife of 50 years, is a retired educator who also has always had a passion for environmental issues. As chaperone and driver, Mike helped with Mary Lou’s “Students to Save the Environment” (Los Alamos High School) as they visited wilderness areas, gave presentations, and even testified at hearings, too. The pair also shared a passion to brush up their Shakespeare as they like it at Stratford-Upon-Avon; Stratford, Ontario, Canada; Utah; Oregon; and other festivals. 

Although Mike’s brother Terry and sister Sheryl have passed on, Mike is survived by Mary Lou, their nieces, nephews, many friends, and all creatures great and small.

Friends are invited to a memorial service Friday, December 17, at 1:00 p.m., Rivera Family Funeral Home, 305 Calle Salazar, Espanola, NM 87532, tel (505) 753-2288; and interment to follow, 3:00 p.m., at Guaje Pines Cemetery, 901 Range Road, Los Alamos, NM 87544.

In his memory, donations are encouraged to Los Alamos Nature Center, Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC), 2600 Canyon Road, Los Alamos, NM 87544, tel (505) 662-0460.

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