Alaska News

African-American aviation pioneer is dead

Eleanor Joyce Toliver-Williams went home to be with the Lord in College Station, Texas, on Good Friday, April 22, 2011, surrounded by loved ones.

Eleanor was born Dec. 21, 1936, to Jack and Viola Ford-Toliver, in Texas. A memorial service will be from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday at Shiloh Baptist Church, 855 E. 20th Ave., in Anchorage. A repast follows in the Shiloh gym. Eleanor accepted Christ at an early age and she stayed the course and introduced as many to Jesus Christ as her time on this Earth allowed. Upon graduating from high school, where she earned a full academic scholarship, she attended Prairie View A&M. She began each day reading the Bible and her daily Word; she then read the newspaper from front to back. Eleanor enjoyed all sports, watching them on television or live as often as she could; she would be the mother in the crowd that everyone could hear.

In 1955 she married Tollie Williams Jr., and of the union she was blessed with seven beautiful children. When her father passed, she then moved to Alaska in 1963 to be close to her older sister, Vanee Robinson. Thus the journey begins.

In 1968, Eleanor began her career at Federal Aviation Administration, cleaning the building -- no job too small. She then moved to the steno pool and on to become the first African-American woman to certify as an air traffic controller at the Anchorage Air Route Traffic Control Center, in 1971. In 1976 it was verified and found to be true that she was the first African-American to certify, at which time she was entered into the U.S. history books. Her legacy did not stop there; this was merely a stepping-stone. She went on to become the first African-American woman to head up a major en-route facility in 1994, at the Cleveland ARTCC in Oberlin, Ohio, the nation's second-busiest en-route air traffic control facility. She was inducted into the Black Aviation Hall of Fame in 2001, along with such greats as C. Alfred Anderson and several other Tuskegee Airmen.

She was one of the first presidents of the Alaska Chapter of the Business and Professional Women. She is listed in the 104th Congressional Record, "Who's Who in the World," "Who's Who in America" and "Who's Who of American Women."

Eleanor received many awards: Department of Transportation Secretary's Award for Excellence in EEO, 1985; National Black Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees C. Alfred Anderson Award, 1991; Texas Youth Advocate of the Year by Commission of Alcohol & Drug Abuse, 2001; North to the Future BPW Club's Woman of the Year, 2006; Proclamation of the Bronze Eagle, renamed the Eleanor J. Williams Bronze Eagle Award, 2011.

She was a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin, friend, leader, mentor and a true child of God. She was committed to teaching, preaching and reaching out to as many as would listen. A true pillar in every community in which she lived, she left her mark wherever she went. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, she was always in a teaching mode, and as she learned she shared her knowledge with others. She believed that what God has for her, He has for her and what He has for others, He has for them, and if you could reach out and touch one person you can make a difference. "You cannot be stopped, if you are willing to keep trying," she would say. Her quote of late was "I am too old to die young; I have lived a long full life. Let us all learn to get along and work together."

She is survived by her seven children, Rodrick L. (Washington), Viola Kaye, Darryl D., Eric R. and Kenneth R. (Alaska), Dana D. and Sheila Anne (Texas); 23 grandchildren; 17 great-grandchildren; sisters, Vanee Robinson, Iris J. Scott, Marjorie Thompson (Lee) and Mary N. Maddox; uncle, Alandrus Peterson; aunt, Christine Ford-Jenkins; a host of nieces and nephews, many cousins; and many, many friends and close associates.

Eleanor was preceded in death by her parents; brother, Robert Toliver; ex-husband Tollie Williams Jr.; two grandsons, Marcus Larry Watkins and Robert London Smith III; and many nephews and nieces, Larry Toliver, Darnell Toliver and Vanee M. Marshall, to name a few. Eleanor's grandson, Marcus Larry Watkins, was laid to rest with her April 30, 2011.

Visit the online memorial at