Quentin Williams lived his life with a perennial question: “What can I do to help?”
As a child, he asked it of teachers and coaches. As an adult, he asked it of family and friends. And as a state representative, he asked it of his community.
“When I felt that the work was too much, he gave me a number for a therapist,” one friend said Friday at a vigil for the legislator who died Thursday, soon after he was sworn in to begin his third term.
“Q was always expanding his chosen family,” said another.
Despite the rain and the cold, hundreds of people gathered Friday night on the South Green in Middletown. Candles and Christmas lights cast a honey glow on community members and Connecticut residents from around the state paying tribute to Williams.
His loved ones shared stories about their beloved friend and relative: After a fraternity brother complimented Williams’ stylish Movado wristwatch, Williams took it off his wrist and gave it to him. He was someone who could be at the state Capitol one minute and in Las Vegas for a quick getaway the next.
Williams, 39, a Democrat from Middletown, died shortly after midnight Thursday when his vehicle collided with another car that was headed in the wrong direction on Route 9. Both drivers were killed in the crash.
Williams had taken his oath of office Wednesday and was returning home from the governor’s inaugural ball in Hartford at the time of the accident.
Following his death, personal anecdotes about and photos of Williams poured in from every corner of the state.
The legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus leaders remembered Middletown’s first Black state representative as “a trailblazer who fought for equality and was committed to creating learning opportunities in all communities.” Gov. Ned Lamont directed state flags to half staff in Williams’ honor. The state Capitol closed for the remainder of the week.
Williams was a graduate of Middletown public schools, had a business degree from Bryant University and earned his master’s of public administration from Villanova.
He first served in the General Assembly during the 2019 session. He was co-chair of the Aging Committee at the start of the 2021-22 session then took over as Housing Committee co-chair. He was slated to serve as head of the Labor and Public Employees Committee this year.
But, as his friend Sacha Armstrong-Crockett pointed out, you can find his resume anywhere.
The outpouring Friday night in Middletown told the story of a son, a friend, a husband, a community leader and an advocate — the moments that made Williams who he was.
Speakers talked of his love for his wife, Carrissa, and his mother, Queen. They addressed his support for women and his advocacy for education and equity. They talked about his positivity, his smile and his ability to make everyone around him feel happy.
Catherine Rees, a New Haven resident who has worked at Middlesex Health in Middletown for 16 years, described Williams as someone who was embedded in the community — always a quick text or phone call away.
“It’s really rare to come across someone like Q, who’s so passionate, and so energetic, and so just exuberant. But so talented, too,” Rees said. “I think he was a true connection for us, for the city of Middletown, to the state of Connecticut. But so present for Middletown. So that, for me, has always been really remarkable about Q.”
Those gathered ranged from legislators from both sides of the aisle to Lt. Gov Susan Bysiewicz. They included a colleague’s mother, babies in strollers and one person who stood on crutches through the nearly two-hour vigil.
Legislators vowed Friday night to continue Williams’ legacy.
Bysiewicz called on the audience to help women, especially women of color, to run for office by encouraging them to pursue careers in politics, knocking on doors for them and donating.
The legislature as a whole also plans to honor Williams, although those details aren’t yet finalized, said House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford.
But when they are, he said, 187 members of the legislature, the governor and the lieutenant governor will be there.
And Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester, spoke about changes lawmakers could make to remember her close friend’s legacy.
“We promise you we will build affordable housing,” Palm said, addressing Williams. “We will protect workers’ rights. We will empower unions. And educate kids. We will find people rides. And lift people out of poverty.”
Or, as she said Williams would say:
“Just save some damn lives. Come on now, people. It’s not that hard.”