Ret. Lt. Col. Eldridge Williams, one of 26 surviving all-black Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, died on July 2 at age 97.
Honored on Feb. 13 by Miami-Dade Aviation as a member of the “Greatest Generation Plus,” he was a familiar figure at Miami Executive Airport (formerly Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport) where he often encouraged youth to pursue careers in aviation.
“Col. Williams was a wonderful longtime member of Wings Over Miami,” said Suze Rice, president of the non-profit organization that directs the West Kendall museum preserving the history of South Florida aviation and those who figured prominently in its past.
A familiar figure at airport-based air shows, Rice said of Williams, “We loved to have him participate in our events and he willingly supported our activities. Our visitors loved his friendliness as much as he loved his interaction with them.”
It was not unusual for him to pop into one of the museum’s car shows with his bright yellow 2005 Chevrolet SSR, a General Motors “Super Sports Car,” and proudly show it off to classic automobile enthusiasts, she added.
Williams especially enjoyed sharing stories with teen members of the Tamiami Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol and encouraging their interests both in aviation history and flying careers.
“His gentle nature will be sorely missed by his many friends at the museum. He was a treasure, a unique person who truly brought the history of the Tuskegee to life,” she said.
Born in Texas, Williams earned his degree in education in 1941 at Xavier University in New Orleans before joining the service and becoming commissioned as a second lieutenant on Miami Beach in 1942.
As a captain at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama until 1945, he trained pilots for the famed Airmen’s unit whose flights escorted bombers over Europe, serving as a flight instructor.
In 1949, he moved to Richmond Heights, a community established for black servicemen returning from World War II, before retiring from the military in 1963.
He taught physical education at Richmond Heights Middle School and later was appointed to administrative duties to assist with the integration of Miami-Dade County schools, retiring in 1985.
Awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush in 2007 with his fellow-surviving Airmen, Williams’ military service also extended to the Berlin Airlift in 1948 and the Korean War years.
He is survived by Rosa White, his companion for 17 years, and daughter, Catherine. A resident near The Falls, his remains will be interred at Arlington Cemetery in Washington, DC.