RICHMOND — In the last months of her life, her lungs ravaged and her sonorous singing voice reduced to a whisper, Joy Love Williams relied on more resourceful means to communicate.
“We would be on the phone, and she would want to hear all the ways we were raising awareness about being an organ donor,” said June R. Wallace, California Transplant Donor Network’s (CTDN) community development director. “I would share ideas, and she would tap on the phone, once for yes and twice for no.”
Williams, a Richmond resident, died of interstitial lung disease this summer. She was on a waiting list for a transplant that never came.
Williams’ family and CTDN officials gathered at New Gesthemane Church of God in Christ on a rainy Tuesday morning to remember Williams and raise awareness about donor transplants by dedicating a rose and a written message that will be one of thousands to adorn the Donate Life Rose Parade float “The Never Ending Story” in this New Year’s Day’s parade in Pasadena.
“The float raises awareness about the ongoing need,” said CTDN spokesman Anthony Borders. “If more eligible people were on the donor list, Joy would have had a better chance to get a pair of lungs.”
In California, 11.5 million people are registered organ donors, only about 40 percent of those eligible, Borders said. About 123,000 people are on the organ waiting list nationally.
Williams, 48, was diagnosed with the lung disease — thought to be caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors — in June 2012. A San Francisco city employee, Williams loved singing, and was a member of several bands and performed in a variety of venues over the past two decades.
As her illness progressed, she was robbed of the singing voice she cherished. But even as her hope for life dimmed, she worked to spread the word about the dearth of organ donors and the lives that could be saved by widespread registration, appearing in a variety of promotional and education materials for CTDN.
At the ceremony Tuesday, her mother and father, along with the Rev. Archie Levias Jr. of New Gesthemane Church, said they hoped Williams’ example would be a “never-ending story” that could save lives.
“My daughter was sick as she could be, but she always fought to get the word out, to help others,” said her mother, Mattie Love Richardson.
Her father, Ray Richardson, said he marveled at his daughter’s strength during her last days in the hospital.
“There was a time, at the end, when it was getting to me, I was choked up, and I got up to leave the room,” Richardson said. “She reached over and grabbed my hand. She was saying ‘stay.’”
An average of 20 people die every day in the United States while waiting for transplants, Borders said. The donor float that will ride in the Rose Parade will also have a dedication garden containing roses commemorating lives lost while waiting.
“The idea is to urge people to have the difficult conversation with their loved ones; do they want to be a donor if something happens,” Borders said.
To register as a donor, go to donatelifecalifornia.org or check the “yes” box the next time you renew your driver’s license.
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/sfbaynewsrogers.