Tonya Lee Williams turns spotlight on her mother



She is the quintessential Jamaican woman – strong, direct, fiercely independent, loyal and someone of abiding faith.

Korah Williams-Harrison is always in the background as her daughter has shone in the arts and received many accolades. Last Saturday, it was actress Tonya Lee Williams’ turn to turn the spotlight on her mother in celebrating her 81st birthday with relatives and close friends.

With her mother’s unstinting support in England where she was born, Jamaica and then Canada, Williams won a Miss Junior Personality contest at age 14, was crowned Miss Black Ontario four years later in 1977 and did comedy for 15 years before switching to drama.

She landed small TV roles and worked in Canadian theatre for a few years before heading to Los Angeles 24 years ago in search of a major acting role. She’s best known for her role as Dr. Olivia Hastings on the daytime drama, The Young and the Restless, which she has been associated with since 1990.

Williams also founded the ReelWorld Film Festival to showcase Canada’s diversity and provide a platform for visible minorities to display their artistic talent and in the process motivate audiences through film.

“I just can’t thank you enough mom for the journey that you have given me and the life I have had,” an emotional Williams said while fighting back tears.

Relatives came from the United States and Jamaica to celebrate the occasion.

Cedric Evans, who lives in Jamaica, spent many weekends and school holidays with his aunt and her daughter in England while pursuing Engineering studies at the University of Manchester.

“In looking back over my life Aunt Korah, it seems you have always been there for me, helping, guiding and supporting me,” said Evans. “During my four years there, your home became my home away from home and for a young student on a tight budget, that really was a blessing and I thank you for that every single day of my life.”

People Performing Arts centre founding president Gloria Surage made a presentation to Williams-Harrison while longtime family friend Kameel Azan, Williams’ hairstylist for the past 37 years, spoke of the admiration he has for the love affair between mother and daughter.

Born in Clarendon, Williams-Harrison worked briefly as an administrative assistant in a law firm before moving to England in 1957 to pursue her passion for Nursing. She returned to Jamaica two years later and was employed at the Jubilee Maternity Hospital while raising her daughter.

In 1966, she went back to England and spent the next four years there before migrating to the Greater Toronto Area and settling in Oshawa where she found employment with the Oshawa General Hospital. She took early retirement in 1985 and immersed herself in poetry writing and painting.

Williams-Harrison – who studied Catholicism three years ago – is also a passionate volunteer, spending many hours at the Yonge St. Mission near her new Toronto residence.

“We are privileged to have known Korah for several years,” said the mission’s assistant director, Janice Rainey. “She is a strong presence in our group and she has contributed much to our community while sharing her creative abilities.”

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