Nancy Williams sews face masks for coronavirus protection

As challenging as the novel coronavirus has made life in many ways, current circumstances have also given “ordinary” people the opportunity to show love and kindness to their fellow human beings.

No matter a person’s age, gender, ability or resources, people in Gwinnett County have stepped up in extraordinary ways to help others.

Nancy Williams, a resident at the Retreat at Loganville, is no exception. In fact, she is a wonderful example of someone who is using her talents to make a difference. At 96 years of age, she has the energy of many half her age. With the shelter-in-place, “no visitor” requirements recently established at her residence and other such senior living homes, Williams was both frustrated and bored.

“Mom doesn’t understand how serious this coronavirus is; she’s just aggravated that she can’t get out or have any visitors,” said Orlando resident Martha Cooper, Nancy’s daughter. “She is so bored being sequestered, so my sister Joan (Ottinger) suggested she start sewing face masks to keep people safe.” Joan took Nancy’s sewing machine out of storage, dusted it off, and drove it over to her mother.There is a good reason Joan suggested her mom start sewing. Nancy (and her mother before her, who was from Vienna, Georgia) has been a very skilled seamstresses since she was a young child. “I suppose all eight of the sisters learned to sew, but my mother really loved it. She’s loved it all her life, from the time she made doll clothes as a little girl,” said Martha.



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Over the years, Nancy created intricate, exquisite dresses, including her granddaughter’s wedding gown and her daughter’s prom dress. “All she had to do was look at a dress, and she could figure out how it was made. I remember her driving me to try on a prom dress. I put the dress on, and just stood still. She walked around me, saying things like, ‘OK, I see how they did that.’” Then Nancy would buy the fabric and create a breathtaking dress just like that, from memory and pure talent.

Even before then, Nancy sewed clothes for others in the community, including girls’ Easter dresses. She eventually got involved with the Miss Georgia pageant, creating stunning one-of-a-kind gowns. She made several outfits for one Miss America contestant, including the breathtaking gown the contestant wore for her performance of a song from Phantom of the Opera. “It was beautiful, with a gorgeous purple cape,” Martha remembered. “She had such amazing talent.”

Nancy also got involved with ceramics years ago, and she became very well known in the antique doll business. Her dolls were sold in several shops in Williamsburg, Virginia, and today her children and grandchildren display and cherish many of the lifelike keepsakes.

“She’s made drapes for her children and grandchildren over the years. All we’d have to do was tell her what we wanted, and she could make them. She absolutely loved to sew,” Martha said.

The years have slowed Nancy’s steps a bit, and her hearing isn’t quite what it used to be. Macular degeneration has affected her sight, so the precision stitches and complicated creations she fashioned in the past were, indeed, things of the past. But then, there arose a need.

“She is a perfectionist and such an unbelievably talented seamstress,” said Joan. “When we told her she could help others by sewing these face masks, she was delighted to do it.”

Uga facemasks 240pxSeveral of Nancy’s family members are frontline healthcare workers and emergency first responders. Joan explained to her mother that, in order to help protect them from the virus, she could sew face masks for them. Joan likened today’s needs during the pandemic to the heroic efforts made by American citizens during World War II. That was all Nancy needed to hear.

To date, the Loganville woman has made protective face masks for the staff at the Retreat at Loganville. She’s made them for first responders in Atlanta, as her great-grandson is a fireman and paramedic in Fulton County. Joan sent some of her mother’s masks to Vanderbilt University Hospital, where Nancy’s granddaughter is a physician. Joan’s daughter-in-law is a nurse who’s been testing people for the virus in Warner-Robbins, Georgia, so she and some of her coworkers received Nancy’s custom-made protective face-wear.

In other words, the 96-year-old woman - who currently can’t leave her Loganville residence - has given real help to heroes and loved ones in two states. At the same time, she lets them know that someone is thinking about them, and cares about the brave and valiant efforts they are making to help others. Often, it’s the knowledge that someone cares and appreciates that gives frontline workers the strength to keep going. In that respect, Nancy is helping us all.

By the time she had made about 100 face masks, Nancy’s sewing machine conked out, unable to keep up with the expert seamstress’ pace. Of course, she wants to make enough for anyone who wants one, but as Joan pointed out, that’s simply not possible. Still, Nancy Williams has inspired and encouraged so many with her selfless contribution to the battle against an unseen enemy.