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Willie the Clown, universally recognized figure in Sanpete County, dies at 92

Willie the Clown, universally recognized figure in Sanpete County, dies at 92

 

Suzanne Dean

Publisher

7/12/18

Willie rides down Manti’s Main Street during the 2012 fair parade. Willie was a fixture at Sanpete community celebrations for almost 30 years.

MANTI—Lamar Williams, who was universally known and recognized in Sanpete County as Willie the Clown, died Tuesday at 92.

Williams, who moved from the Millcreek area of Salt Lake County to Manti after he retired in 1988, broke a leg in 2017 and afterward was unable to walk. He entered the Mission at Community Living care center in March of this year, which is where he died. (See obituary page __.)

He was raised in Spanish Fork and Provo, and even as a youngster liked to hang out around the circus whenever it came to town, Marla Ward, his oldest daughter says. Sometimes he would end up getting painted up as a clown.

Right after high school, he joined the Navy and served in World War II. When he was discharged in California, he remained there, got involved in roller skating and became a state champion in the sport.

His future wife’s parents owned a roller rink. They hired him to teach roller skating at their rink. That’s where his wife, Dorothy, then age 12, met him. A little over two years later, when he was 23 and she 14-1/2, they were married.

Between the mid 1950s and mid 1960s, the Williamses lived in California, where Lamar worked in maintenance at a hospital and for Monterrey Peninsula Community College.

In 1966, the family, which eventually included eight children, moved back to Utah. Over the next 20 years, Williams’ resume grew to reflect the diversity of his skills.

“He could do anything,” his daughter says. The reason he kept changing jobs, she said, was that “he kept perfecting another skill.”

He worked in maintenance for the University of Utah, managed the Classic Skating roller rink, was a building inspector for Salt Lake County and ended his working career as a maintenance worker at the Salt Palace.

During his years in Salt Lake County, he started clowning in earnest. He taught clowning for 10 years through the U. of U. Theater Department. When he retired from the role, the department bestowed a “doctorate of mirth” on him.

In one of his first years after moving to Sanpete County, he and his wife roller skated the length of the Sanpete County Fair Parade as “Willie” and “Wobbly.”

Before long, Willie the Clown, often riding a tiny bicycle with handlebars 3 to 4 feet long, or later, an ATV, seemed to pop up in nearly every town parade and at events ranging from a Christmas piñata festival in Ephraim; to a birthday party for Readasaurus,  the Ephraim Elementary School mascot; to an end-of-summer reading carnival at the Fairview bookmobile library.

In 2013, he made his 20th appearance at the Sanpete County Fair. In many or most of those years, he put on a clown show as part of the talent competition. In many years, he also put on a clown class where youngsters emerged as authentic looking clowns.

Between official performances, he walked or rode around the grounds giving away balloons, or tying them into animal figures and giving the tied creations away.

“He is there the whole fair. Literally the whole fair,” Liz Brotherson, the entertainment chairwoman in 2013, told the Sanpete Messenger.  “I don’t think he would stay away even if he was told he couldn’t come.”

Once in his mid 80s, Williams told fair leaders he was going to train someone to replace him. “But that hasn’t happened,” Brotherson told the Messenger. “He’s been here every year. He loves it,” especially the clowning class. “The idea of clowns, their skill and everything about them. He loves it.”

Besides clowning, Williams loved carpentry, loved to fish and was an avid gardener, “and the bigger the zucchini the better,” his daughter said.

After entering the care center, she said he was “not always was he in our reality, but you put a balloon in his hand and he started tying it.” Many residents in the care center had his balloon creations in their rooms.

In an interview with the Messenger in 2013, Williams reflected on his years with the Sanpete County Fair. “It’s just been a great experience for me, promoting the art of clowning. This is my way of saying ‘thanks’ to the people of Sanpete County. I just love to make people happy. If I’m friendly and loving, who knows what will come of it.”