May Venzor Williams was born in El Paso, Texas in 1893. Her parents were of Mexican and French descent. By the time May Venzor was 18 she was a soldier in the Salvation Army stationed in Honolulu. There she met Samuel Williams, a soldier who had fought with Teddy Roosevelt's RoughRiders in the Philippines. May and Samuel got married and in 1915 they moved to the small Navy town of San Diego along California's southern coast.
In 1918 May gave birth to a son, Ted, and two years later, the couple had another son, Danny. In 1923 the Williams family moved to a small house located at 4121 Utah Street on the north side of San Diego.
May's marriage to Samuel, by all accounts, was not very good. By 1940 the marriage dissolved in divorce . May's parenting skills receive mixed reviews. May's son Ted later told writer John Underwood that his mother "was gone all day and half the night working the streets for the Salvation Army." May also apparently had little time for housekeeping. "I remember being ashamed of how dirty the house was all the time," Ted said. Ted's boyhood friend, Del Ballinger told a Ted Williams' biographer that May "wasn't a good mother because she was never home. She'd be on the corner collecting money..." Molly O'Neill, writing in the New York Times said Ted Williams told her that May "wasn't much of a cook." Gordon Edes in an article for the Boston Globe wrote that May was, "more often a source of shame than pride." Ted said he "was embarrassed that my mother was in the middle of the damn street all the time."
May's nephew Manny Herrera described her as "very strong, very tall, she was a gallant woman, one of a kind. Independent, strong-willed, just like [her son] Ted." Perhaps she was a bit eccentric as well. Herrera tells of May wearing sunglasses inside church.
The Salvation Army was created in the middle of the 19th C. by William and Catherine Booth. The Booths were an English evangelical couple who believed service to the poor was service to God. The Booths vision evolved from their "Christian Mission" in the poverty-stricken East End of London to the "Hallelujah Army" to the Salvation Army that spread internationally. (William Booth first penned the name "Salvation Army" in 1878.) The Salvation Army came to the United States when Eliza Shirley held the first Salvation Army meeting in Philadelphia in 1879. By 1886 an official Salvation Army delegation had met with the Grover Cleveland, president of the United States. The Booths' religious doctrine, based on Arminian theological concepts included belief in the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body. Eternal happiness awaits the righteous and endless punishment awaits the wicked. Jacobus Armenius, a contemporary of John Calvin believed man was originally innocent but had become disobedient and thus had fallen from grace. Men were sinners, damned and depraved. May Williams, a devoted, perhaps obsessed, soldier in the Salvation Army in the San Diego of the early 1900s made it her business to save and salvage the fallen.
In Ed Linn's biography of Ted Williams we learn that May bought Ted a baseball glove, a tennis racquet, a rifle. And although it embarrassed him, she took him with her to work. When he was six, he was "dedicated", a form of baptism in the Salvation Army.
"Salvation May" was a dominating person who was once named San Diego Woman of the Year. She knew reporters and the city's Mayor. Linn writes that she had an "awesome competence." And Linn observes that no matter how "difficult Ted's relationship with his mother may have been, he learned one thing from her that determined everything else. total commitment."
Ted Williams escaped from the traumas of his childhood in the fields of baseball. However, even on those fields May, who never learned much about baseball, would prove to be influential. One of the first serious fights Williams had with the press occurred in 1940 when his parents were getting divorced. The son was criticized and ridiculed for not returning to San Diego to comfort his mother. Again, in 1942 the press badgered Ted Williams when he obtained a draft deferment because his mother, since her divorce, was dependent on him. (Williams eventually enlisted and trained as a pilot.)
The glimpses we have of May Venzor Williams suggest a complicated woman with some significant talent. She served her God by trying to save others, a pursuit that left little time for her to care for her own children. One of those children grew up to become one of the best hitting baseball players in the history of the sport and who lived to the ripe old age of 83, a
successful, respected man. Her other son was at first a rebellious delinquent who reformed himself and then died of leukemia at the age of 39. She was called "Salvation May" and the "Tijuana Angel." She was complicated.
May Williams and her sons:
Ted (L) and Danny (R)
May Williams died in Santa Barbara, California on August 27, 1961. That was three days before her oldest son turned 43 and about seventeen months after her youngest son had died.
This plate honors May Williams, not because she was a wonderful mother; who knows what a wonderful mother is exactly? This plate honors May for her complexities.
May Williams at the Cosmic Baseball Association
May Williams is an original member of the Motherland Mothers, a Cosmic Baseball Association team formed in 1999. She has not demonstrated the same hitting ability as her son Ted although during the 2000 season she batted .290 and hit 42 homeruns. Last season she had a series of problems and was unable to play in the outfield every day.