WATERLOO – Barbara Williams came to Iowa in 1981 to escape an abusive relationship. She ended up spending her career helping women find refuge from abusive husbands and boyfriends.
“I enjoyed it because it was helping people. … I just feel like God gave me that to do, and I just tried to do it to the best of my ability,” said Williams, whose last day with the Black Hawk County Clerk of Courts Office was March 1.
A Chicago native, Williams had been working at the University of Illinois for about 10 years when a sister-in-law who was living in Waterloo recommended coming to Iowa.
Williams felt if she had remained in the relationship she was in at the time, she would have ended up dead. So she gathered her two sons, took a bus ride from the Windy City and gave herself two years to see if she could make it in Waterloo and put the matter in God’s hands.
Williams found an apartment and trudged around through the snowy streets before she figured out the city’s bus system.
One day, she walked into the Black Hawk County Courthouse on business, and she knew that is where she wanted to work.
“Something just came over me. I’m supposed to be in here,” Williams said.
A year after applying — and almost on the day of her two-year deadline — Williams started a job as a part-time court attendant, helping with magistrate court in Cedar Falls. In 1985, her assignment moved her to the courthouse in Waterloo, and then she landed a job with the Clerk’s Office.
Her last position involved helping families apply for mental health committals for loved ones and helping people fill out paperwork for civil restraining orders.
It is with the second duty that Williams encouraged people to take charge of their lives.
“Sometimes you have to take a stand that you are not going to allow yourself to be abused. And that’s what I try to instill in women that come up here,” Williams said. “You have to decide when enough is enough.”
She said she often sees people who have taken out two or three domestic abuse protective orders over the years, each time declining to show up for hearings and allowing the matter to drop, sometimes with dire consequences.
In retirement, Williams, a grandmother of three, plans to visit family and is keeping her options open.
“I’m going to just rest and see what’s next. If the Lord tells me to do something else, I’ll do something else,” Williams said.