Search This Blog

Sunday, November 6, 2016


Kim Williams was an older woman of great character and talent.  She had a career on “All Things Considered” and other PBS venues that was based on her interest in “found foods.”  Edible weeds, fungi, berries and the like that she learned to find as a member of a poor family that had to scrounge.  It became a kind of philosophy of relationship to the land.  She’d say in her characteristic rather creaky voice,  “This is Kim Williams in Missooooola, Montana.

Kim often attended the UU services on Sunday, though she declared that she was actually in better sympathy with the Unity Church but it was a bit farther to walk.  She walked everywhere.  In those days the fellowship was like some foodie cultures today, competing to see who could bring the tastiest dishes.  One day Kim showed up with chili made of some kind of mystery meat which she hinted would surprise us.  It was earthworms.  After that, no one would eat what she brought unless it was perfectly obvious what it was.

We all loved Kim, as much because of her eccentricity as in spite of it.  Missoula has always had a vigorous NPR presence and Kim was a national treasure.  She died of ovarian cancer, refusing chemo or surgery, quietly accepting her fate.

In the early days after her diagnosis I was driving somewhere on a snowy night and passed her walking out in the street which was plowed and easier walking.  I pulled up alongside to offer her a lift, which she refused.  Through the window of the van we talked a bit about her acceptance of death, which she said she didn’t fear.  It’s not unusual for a minister to be counselling in surprising circumstances, but I think it’s honest to say she was the minister that time.

I went to her house for lunch one day — NOT chili — and was so impressed by her fine paintings.  She had spent a lot of time with her husband in Chile so some were of indigenous people.  He was an engineer, I think.  She showed me a curiously deformed pop can from his time in Alaska helping to survey a new road through dense underbrush.  It was full of grizzly bears and his job was to stand with a rifle, safety off, to protect the surveyors.  If they needed to step off the path for a private act (ahem) they were instructed to carry and keep rattling one of the pop cans he had filled with a few pebbles and sealed with tape.  The man who carried this can had put it down to manage his clothing, etc., and left it behind briefly when he returned to the path.  He saw no bears.  When he realized he’d left his rattle, he went back for it.  In the brief moment he had been gone, the bear had bitten it, puncturing the soft metal tooth-deep and crushing it, then leaving it on the man’s “deposit.”

Kim’s husband showed it to the others as a lesson.  In her mind it was also an example of the powerful universe that sustains us all, including bears, and the great importance of treating it with respect.  

I often repeat to myself Kim's motto, which was "DO OR BE DONE UNTO!!"

Here is Kim’s Wikipedia entry.  As usual, one doesn’t know who wrote it.

Kim Williams (September 23, 1923 – August 6, 1986) was an American naturalist, writer, and the longest-ever running guest commenter on NPR where she was a guest commentator on the radio show All Things Considered for over ten and a half years.


Kim Williams was born on September 23, 1923 as Elizabeth Ardea Kandiko as the fourth child (of seven) as the daughter of Hungarian immigrants.  She grew up on a farm in the Gallatin Township in New York and attended and graduated from Hudson High School and subsequently Cornell University where she graduated with a degree in human ecology with a minor in botany.

After her graduation she took jobs at various publications such as the Los Angeles Examiner and Flower Grower magazine, it was also at this time that she started writing poetry and short prose based on personal experience.  In 1951, she met and married her husband Mel Williams and then moved to Santiago, Chile for twenty years. During her time in Chile, Williams wrote poems, plays, and short stories, she also wrote a newspaper column and taught English at the Catholic University of Chile. While in Chile she also and wrote and published her first two books, High Heels in the Andes and Wild Animals of Chile.

In 1971 she and her husband returned to the United States and settled in Missoula, Montana where she would remain the rest of her life. Williams while living in Missoula returned to college and in 1981 received her masters degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Montana.  Also while living in Missoula she published her final two books, Eating Wild Plants and Kim Williams' Book of Uncommon Sense: A Practical Guide With 10 Rules for Nearly Everything.  In addition, she occasionally taught classes on edible wild plants at the University of Montana and wrote a newspaper column on wildflowers & plants for the Missoulian which would lead to her getting a radio show on KUFM and subsequently a radio show on NPR where she had as many 2.5 million listeners.

Williams was elected in 1974 to serve on the City Government Study Commission in Missoula, and she also ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Montana House of Representatives in 1978. In 1986 Williams announced on the radio program All Things Considered three weeks before her death that she had terminal cancer and was refusing chemotherapy.  On July 16, 1986 on what would be her last radio broadcast she said to Susan Stamberg co-host of All Things Considered that "I wish to die in peace, not in pieces.” Her death was mourned and recognized throughout the United States, with commentaries in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and numerous smaller newspapers. A trail along the Clark Fork River in Missoula was named in her memory in 1987, and the Kim Williams Graduate Fellowship was founded for journalism students at The University of Montana.

No comments:

Post a Comment