Remembering Terry Williams

August 3, 2022

The Tulalip Tribe, Washington state, and the larger climate community lost a powerhouse leader and much-loved friend in Terry Williams this week.

From a research boat on Oct. 12, 2016, Tulalip Tribes treaty rights commissioner Terry Williams points out a steep hillside near Mission Beach that has been gradually eroding for years. (Ian Terry / The Herald)



Terrance Rollo Williams left this world at age 74 on July 19th, 2022. He died peacefully in his sleep with loving family members nearby, just days after he and his wife Suzanne celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.


Terry was a Tulalip Tribes elder, servant of God and one of Mother Earth’s champions. His mission to protect and restore Her resources for future generations was deeply rooted in an intimate relationship with Spirit. A powerful yet humble man, he attributed his accomplishments always to the Creator. “When I look back on all I’ve done,” he said recently, “… something greater [was] guiding me, helping me.”


Terry was born April 23,1948, the second of four children of Reverends Adam Williams and Marjory Williams. His parents’ community-service ministry in the Tulalip Church of God defined Terry’s spiritual and cultural formation. “I was an egg of the Church,” he liked to say. Tulalip’s Mission Beach was his playground, Nature his teacher, timeless Salish tradition and Christian faith the pillars of his lifelong values. From their parents, Terry and his siblings learned unconditional generosity and an indefatigable work ethic.


Before enlisting in the army, Terry studied nursing; returning from Viet Nam a decorated US Army veteran, he earned degrees in Mechanics and Law and Justice over a thirteen-year period while working for the Burlington Northern Railroad. Tulalip Tribes leaders Bernie Gobin and Stan Jones recruited Terry to the tribal Police Department where enforcement issues soon led him to Fisheries and, over the years, to Natural Resources and Treaty Rights. In Washington DC he “worked the Hill” for twenty-five years alongside the revered Nisqually activist Billy Frank, Jr. to advance the Treaty Rights cause. Terry was appointed to a series of influential leadership positions by Washington State Governors Booth Gardner and Chris Gregoire, national EPA Administrator Carol Browner and Presidents Clinton and Obama. In collaboration with a network of expert colleagues, Terry opened doors for indigenous peoples to enter the halls of power, not merely as equals, but rather as confident experts. At the United Nations and the Conventions on Biological Diversity, indigenous representatives now participate in environmental policy-making that codifies their rights of survival and stewardship and strengthens climate change legislation.


Terry had a gift for finding common ground. As the Tulalip Tribes’ environmental justice spokesperson, this tireless warrior fought to bring together traditional knowledge and western science on the battleground of climate action. Clocking hundreds of thousands of air miles, he spread the message of indigenous leadership on environmental issues and spearheaded the creation of numerous tribal, governmental, business and non-profit coalitions. He forged alliances among disparate, often adversarial stakeholders; he taught the players to listen to each other with the same compassionate attention that he gave unfailingly to each and every one. For his well-earned reputation as a thought leader and for the magnitude of his contributions, Terry received countless honors and lifetime achievement awards.


But in the end, that is not what folks are talking about today. Above all, his family, friends and colleagues remember this: Terry embodied agapé, love and kindness. He wished no one ill, spoke gently and looked into people’s eyes with a penetrating warmth, whether they’d just met him or had known him for decades. His older grandchildren recognized and loved his quiet, gentle spirit, while the little ones approached him with joy and delight. We’ll remember that his brilliant mind reached thousands of years back into history — to the moment the people first welcomed the salmon to the watersheds of his beloved Puget Sound. And just as easily, he turned his eyes towards a future centuries away, where he saw indigenous leadership empowering the generations to reap again the abundance they once knew.


Terrance Rollo Williams has joined the ancestors. His mission, far from done, is only enhanced by broader scope and sharper vision. He is survived by the love of his life Suzanne Claire Tabacco Williams, sons Joshua, Jesse and Jamie Williams, grandchildren Alysa, Camila, Isla and Noah Williams, sister Sandy Tracy and brother Daryl Williams.

Author credit: Aniko Bahr

In lieu of flowers, contributions in Terry’s memory may be sent to:

Global Ocean Health, NFCC, PO Box 30615, Seattle WA 98103

All of us here at Clean & Prosperous Washington are inspired by Terry’s leadership, grateful for his lifelong contributions to protecting our land, air, and waters, and saddened by his passing.

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