By Lily Belcher
Deborah L. Williams became the first minority female to be inducted as the Rotary International district governor for District 6890 on June 26. Rotary International District 6890 represents Hillsborough, Highland, Hardee and Polk Counties and supports local organizations and service projects to help the community.
Williams’ journey to the governorship was not an easy one, but her determination and perseverance led her to the role.
The Pittsburg, Pennsylvania native was first introduced to Rotary International after retiring from 27 years of military service with the highest honors and distinction, having served as installation commander for the U.S. Army in Granite City, Illinois. Her husband, Duane Williams, who will also become the first minority membership chair, introduced her to the service organization, which he joined after nearly 29 years of military service.
“It’s so important because we do everything together. We’re a team and we’ve always done things together,” Williams gushed about her husband. “He inspires me, he encourages me, he promotes me and he supports me to be an active leader and role model for all women.”
She became a Rotarian in 2007 and served as club president of the Bloomingdale-FishHawk Rotary Club from 2009-2010 before merging with the Rotary Club of Riverview. She has continued to serve Rotary International as service project chair and was recognized as the Assistant Governor of the Year in 2018-2019. Williams is also an active member of her community, owning Bellafia Chocolate Boutique and working in district sales with Jewels by Park Lane, Inc.
After nearly 20 years of service to Rotary International, Williams was nominated by her club to represent the 35 clubs included in District 6890 as district governor. After being denied the position three times, she was ultimately offered the role when the 2019 nominee stepped down. Within three days of finding out she would finally step into the position for which she worked tirelessly, she was in Atlanta, Georgia for her first day of training at the Leadership Summit.
As a female minority district governor, she will be following in the footsteps of Dr. Sylvia Whitlock, who, in California, was the first to petition the Rotary Club to allow women to participate as members of their Rotary Clubs in 1987. Dr. Whitlock, too, was a woman of color and president of her Rotary Club.
“Hopefully, I can be a role model or mentor that can pave the way for young minority females as well as being an example for others to follow,” said Williams. “I am able to make an impact no matter how big or small. And now, I feel like, being in this position, I feel like I can have a voice for others to hear and also I want to be an example for others to follow.”
In her role as district governor, Williams will not only work to “encourage, ignite and engage all the members to reach out to one’s community,” but will also focus on expanding Rotary membership in District 6890. Traditional Rotary Clubs typically meet during lunch; however, Williams hopes to create more clubs that could meet during dinner or clubs that will reach young college graduates, high schoolers and even elementary school students.
“We need to obtain the needs of the community because diversity, equity and inclusion is paramount within the world of Rotary and to increase the membership, we have to develop one club at a time,” said Williams.
For more information on Rotary International, visit at rotary.org.