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Williams offers thanks in search for sister

Fargo City Commissioner Mike Williams, left, reacts as Mayor Dennis Walaker extends his condolences to Williams' family for the death of his sister on Monday during the City Commission meeting. Jay Pickthorn / The Forum

For as colorful a clientele as The Aquarium usually attracts, the early evening shift Saturday still would've had regulars looking twice.

Hours before a bluegrass act took the stage in the second-floor bar above Dempsey's, the room was filled with a crowd at least 20-some years older than usual, including firefighters, media personalities, one bloodhound and at least one politician.

It was a different room for Fargo Commissioner Mike Williams to work. Instead of pressing hands and talking about city issues, he gave hugs and offered thanks for those who searched for his sister, Laura Williams-Jaffe.

The 56-year-old woman went missing late last month. On Friday, her body was pulled from the Red River. She suffered from anxiety and pain from a broken back. Police do not suspect foul play.

Though a somber occasion, Williams flashed his jovial smile as he welcomed visitors. It's a wide smile similar to those Laura showed in pictures posted by the door.

The youngest of 10 children, Mike Williams was the family's spokesman during the search. Now he was the public face of a family coming to grips with a tragic loss.

Clearly moved, he thanked individuals by name and groups for all they'd done to find Laura.

He announced the family would donate $5,000 each to the Salvation Army and Valley Water Rescue, and $1,000 would be given to Earl "Bud" Myers, whose hound, Barnaby, trailed Laura's scent to the river.

Finished with his acknowledgements, he made his way through the crowd. When he realized the room was quiet, people not knowing what to say or do, he called for everyone to have a drink, eat and celebrate the life his sister led, not the death she died.

The commissioner's new role as spokesman for a mourning family wasn't one he ran for or one anyone would ever want. But it's one he's taken on with grace and generosity. "We're a faithful family," he said during Monday's City Commission meeting. "And this is a faithful community... and we're just happy to live here."

When his sister went missing, Williams didn't play a political hand in asking for help. Instead, he used the credit he'd earned as a caring member of the community.

"He's a classy guy," said Dempsey's owner and Williams' friend, Bert Meyers, who offered the bar's services Saturday. Meyers and his wife, Lisa, tended bar for the event and donated food from their other business, Bertrosa's.

A prayer service is set for 5 p.m. Wednesday at Boulger Funeral Home in Fargo. The funeral will be at 2 p.m. Thursday at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Fargo.