John Williams, former Oregon City mayor, remained community advocate through age 95

David park

John Williams Jr., 95, who served as Oregon City mayor from 1999-2003 and remained active in the community over the past decades, died with myasthenia gravis on Nov. 18.

Williams’ time as mayor included the construction of Home Depot and several other major developments. While he then co-authored a book about the life of William Simon U’Ren, the father of Oregon’s system of direct democracy, his interest in the topic wasn’t merely academic. Since serving as mayor, he led several successful citizen initiatives.

Williams helped collect signatures of registered voters to recall a mayor and placed language in the official city code calling for the abolishment of urban-renewal financing. He had been a resident of Oregon City for over 30 years, since 1992.

Williams’ latest political victory came this spring when a Clackamas County circuit judge agreed with him that everyone who owns property in Oregon City pays for urban renewal, not just downtown property owners. The judge’s decision to force Oregon City to correct its Voters’ Pamphlet statement could have been a factor in the city’s election loss on a ballot measure asking voters to approve $44 million in urban renewal funds for various projects.

Williams’ wife Joan was established as a party to the couple’s latest lawsuit pointing out that Oregon’s Constitution requires that revenue collected by urban renewal agencies “be used to pay any indebtedness incurred for urban renewal projects.” Meanwhile, Oregon City has paid off its only debt-funded urban-renewal project in the district, the remodel of City Hall in 2008.

Williams was among the former mayors and other Oregon City elected officials who advocated for the city’s recall of a mayor in 2020. That election was the first successful recall of a mayor in Oregon City history.

In a statement that helped him win the mayoral election in 1998, Williams wrote that Oregon City was at a crossroads between becoming a city that charted its own destiny or a “regional center” for Metro governance. He said that it was important for city leadership to listen to citizens as Oregon City made key decisions.

“When making choices for spending tax dollars on development, water, sewers, streets, public safety, etc., I value every person’s opinion. Every citizen must have a chance to be heard. Real leadership will make it so,” Williams wrote in the Voters’ Pamphlet.

A graduate of Jefferson High School in Portland, Williams served as president of his senior class. He attended Northwestern University in Illinois, graduating in 1950 with a degree in speech.

Korea May 1951

U.S. Marine Corps Colonel John Franklin Williams, Jr. served in Korea from May 1951 to June 1952, during the bloody stalemate along 38th parallel that saw intermittent fighting while peace negotiations proceeded.

Soon after graduating college, Williams embarked on a long and distinguished career in the military. He enlisted in the U.S. Marines Corps and served a tour of duty in Korea as a second lieutenant.

Williams joined the Marine reserves on his return to the states and served as a commanding officer of a unit on Swan Island. He retired from active reserves in 1973 and fully retired as a colonel in 1988.

During retirement, Williams spent four years traveling the world with his wife on his trimaran. Upon returning from the trip, he became actively involved in various civic affairs in Oregon City.

Williams founded and chaired the South End Neighborhood Association from 1996-97. He also served as chairman of the county’s library board and an advisory committee for Oregon City police and fire chiefs. He was a member of the Oregon City Budget Committee, the Oregon City School District’s Lunch Buddy Program and OCSD’s Bond Committee. He regularly volunteered to clean up litter through the county’s Adopt-a-Road program.

In addition to his wife, Williams is survived by his son John III (Juanita), daughter Martha, stepdaughter Leslie, seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Williams dedicated his book to two other Oregon City mayors, Ed Allick (1934-2019) and Don Andersen (1932-2017), who “gave countless hours of their time to their fellow citizens through their selfless volunteer government service.” Williams was writing of Allick and Andersen on his book’s dedication page, but the statement could easily be applied to Williams himself. Find out more about the book and order a $20 copy at or

Williams was cremated and his remains will be interred with military honors at Willamette National Cemetery. A celebration of life is being planned sometime during the month of January.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in Williams’ memory be made to the McLoughlin Memorial Association and/or the Pioneer Center’s Meals on Wheels program.


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